Saying to allow the legal action to continue would effectively allow internet companies to be sued virtually everywhere, at any time, Facebook has asked a Cook County judge to dismiss or at least place on hold a lawsuit brought by Cook County’s state’s attorney over claims the social media giant allowed user data to be mined by another firm to aid President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
On April 19, Facebook filed a motion in Cook County Circuit Court, formally requesting dismissal of the Cook County case, or at least a pause in the lawsuit, pending the outcome of numerous similar lawsuits, combined into one proceeding now pending in federal court.
“Specific personal jurisdiction over internet companies is not created merely because their website is accessed by Illinois residents,” Facebook asserted in its brief. “’Having an ‘interactive website’ … should not open a defendant up to personal jurisdiction in every spot on the planet where that interactive website is accessible.’”
Facebook has sparred with a team of private class action trial lawyers from the firm of Edelson P.C., on behalf of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, over where the case should be heard since 2018.
The Edelson lawyers filed the lawsuit in March 28, after the firm was hired by Foxx to represent the county in the case. According to the county contract, the Edelson firm stands to collect 20 percent of any money the county may be paid by Facebook from the case.
The lawsuit asserts Facebook allowed now-defunct data firm Cambridge Analytica to collect and share Facebook user data with political campaigns, including the Trump 2016 election organization.
Facebook asserts Cambridge deceived its way into the information through an app called “This Is Your Digital Life.”
The Cook County lawsuit, however, asserts Facebook’s policies “tacitly invited electioneering companies … to harvest its data for purposes of profiling users and targeting them with tailored messaging that would dependably influence and manipulate their behavior.”
To date, however, arguments have not dealt with those claims. Rather, the two sides have fought in multiple courtrooms over whether the case should be heard in Cook County court.
Soon after the suit was filed, Facebook removed the case to federal court in Chicago. From there, the case was consolidated into a so-called multi-district litigation, created by a federal judicial panel, to deal with numerous similar lawsuits from across the U.S. against Facebook and Cambridge over the same issues.
That MDL remains pending in California federal court, in the federal judicial district in which Facebook is headquartered.
However, earlier this year, a California federal judge decided to sever the Cook County case from that MDL, and send it back to be heard in Cook County court. In that order, the judge said he believed the Cook County lawsuit “serves primarily the interests of the State of Illinois” and doesn’t “overlap” with private interests involved in the other lawsuits lumped into the MDL.
The judge said the lawsuit was “the embodiment of a state enforcement action brought in the public interest.”
Four months later, Facebook filed its motion, asking a Cook County judge to dismiss the case.
The social media company asserted the arguments advanced on behalf of the county fall short, as the county hasn’t established why it has the right to sue Facebook in an Illinois court. While noting Illinois residents use Facebook, the company said that is not enough to allow the lawsuit to proceed in a local court.
“Plaintiff’s only factual allegation purportedly tying Facebook to Illinois is that Facebook users live in Illinois,” Facebook argued. “But that is insufficient - the fact that Facebook’s site ‘is accessible to Illinois residents does not confer specific jurisdiction over Facebook.’”
Facebook further argued the case should be dismissed because Facebook users were never deceived by Facebook.
“Facebook fully disclosed to its users (1) that third-party apps can access user data; (2) how to limit such access; and (3) that users should be aware that Facebook does not control third-party app developers,” Facebook asserted.
“…Plaintiff (Cook County) cannot complain on behalf of consumers about practices that Facebook accurately disclosed.”
Facebook also requested, in the alternative, the case be placed on hold, pending a resolution of the MDL in California federal court, as the allegations referenced in the county’s lawsuit also lie at the heart of those other cases.
“The 30-plus actions that are part of the MDL proceeding against Facebook - each of which asserts claims on behalf of a putative nationwide class of Facebook users that includes the Illinois consumers that Plaintiff purports to be protecting - all share the same factual issues arising from the same allegations that Cambridge Analytica exploited Facebook’s platform to obtain user data,” Facebook wrote. “The consolidated MDL complaint makes the same factual allegations, complains of the same alleged conduct, and asserts the same type of state law consumer protection claims (including Illinois law claims) as Plaintiff asserts here.”
The county has not yet responded to Facebook’s motion.
Facebook is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Perkins Coie LLP, of Chicago, and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, of New York and San Francisco.