In an expansive decision, a federal court judge held that Michigan’s state analogue to the federal Video Privacy Protection Act applies to more than just videos in a putative class action suit brought by a consumer against a magazine publisher.
Deborah Kinder alleged that Meredith Corp. violated Michigan’s Video Rental Privacy Act by disclosing her personal information – including the magazines to which she subscribed – without her consent. Kinder’s subscriptions to Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, and Midwest Living revealed information about her “age, income, travel habits, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation,” she claimed. As a result of the disclosure, she received unwanted commercial solicitations and advertisements.
Contending that the VRPA does not cover magazines, Meredith moved to dismiss.
But U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Ludington disagreed.
The statute provides that “[A] person, or an employee or agent of the person, engaged in the business of selling at retail, renting, or lending books or other written materials, sound recordings, or video recordings shall not disclose to any person, other than the customer, a record or information concerning the purchase, lease, rental, or borrowing of those materials by a customer that indicates the identity of the customer.”
Latching on to the phrase “or other written materials,” the court said it was irrelevant that magazines were not explicitly enumerated in the statute and that applying the statute to magazines would not lead to an unexpected result.
“That the VRPA ensures Michigan magazine subscribers enjoy a high level of privacy is not so absurd so as to ‘shock the general moral or common sense,’” Judge Ludington wrote. “Providing a high level of privacy in magazine subscriptions is consistent” with the statute’s legislative purpose “to preserve personal privacy with respect to the purchase, rental, or borrowing of certain materials.”
The court also rejected Meredith’s argument that Kinder failed to state whether she subscribed directly from the publisher or a third party. “Although Kinder did not provide the specific method of subscription, she alleged that she ‘purchased written materials directly from Meredith,’” which was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, the judge said.
Judge Ludington dismissed one cause of action based on breach of contract, but he allowed a claim for unjust enrichment to move forward along with Kinder’s breach of the VRPA claim.
To read the order in Kinder v. Meredith Corporation, click here.
Why it matters: Based on the statute’s goal of protecting the privacy of Michigan residents, Judge Ludington took an expansive view of the phrase “or other written materials” to include magazines. The court also characterized Meredith’s argument that personal data has no inherent monetary value and Kinder suffered no loss as “miss[ing] the point.” Because Meredith agreed not to disclose her information and yet allegedly did disclose it, Kinder did not receive the full amount of the benefits she was entitled to based on her subscription, the court said.