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Massachusetts Consumer Data Privacy Bill Could Dramatically Expand Class Action Litigation Risk

Earlier this year, Massachusetts state senators introduced a consumer data privacy bill with a private right of action that could become the broadest in the country. The proposed law, An Act Relative to Consumer Data Privacy (S.120) would create a new category of litigation in local, state, and federal courts against businesses that collect personal information from Massachusetts consumers.

The bill was recently referred to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. If enacted, S.120 would follow in the wake of a series of data privacy laws in Europe, California, and Illinois that have dramatically increased data privacy litigation risks for companies that collect consumer data, potentially bringing a potential surge of data privacy class actions to Massachusetts courthouses.

The proposed Massachusetts bill follows other legislation aimed at protecting consumer data privacy, including the General Data Protection Regulation (EU Regulation 2016/679) (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (AB-375) (CCPA) and the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (740 ILCS/14) (BIPA). The bill adopts many key features from CCPA and BIPA, with important distinctions.

Key features of S.120 include:

  • Application to for-profit businesses that collect personal information from Massachusetts consumers if they have either annual gross revenues over $10 million or derive more than 50% of annual revenues from third-party disclosures of consumer information.
  • Expansive definitions of Personal Information and Biometric Information.
  • Consumer rights to notice about the collection of personal information, to disclosure of the business purpose of personal information collection, to request copies of collected personal information, to direct the deletion of personal information, to opt-out of third-party disclosures, and to non-discrimination.
  • Exceptions for aggregated data, employee information, First Amendment news gathering, clinical trials, and scientific research.
  • A non-waivable private right of action for statutory damages of $750 per violation of any provision of the law (plus attorney’s fees and costs) that might be recoverable in class actions without a requirement that plaintiffs demonstrate actual injury to establish standing. There is no requirement that violations be negligent, reckless, or intentional, and any contractual provision that would waive or limit a right under the law would be deemed unenforceable.

Based on these key provisions, it is difficult to overstate the magnitude of class action litigation risk the proposed law may create for businesses collecting data from Massachusetts consumers. These businesses and their advisors should follow closely the progress of S.120, and be prepared to creatively formulate litigation risk strategies to confront a potential new tidal wave of consumer class actions in Massachusetts. If the bill, or one like it, is enacted, business litigators will need to evaluate potential defenses to class-wide liability under existing precedent and constitutional limitations.

©2020 Pierce Atwood LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume IX, Number 141


About this Author

Peter J. Guffin data and privacy lawyer Pierce Atwood

As chair of Pierce Atwood’s Privacy & Data Security practice, Peter Guffin combines extensive experience in intellectual property, information technology, privacy and data protection law, with a practical appreciation of the business and legal imperatives that can determine a client's success.

Areas of focus include:

  • Information Privacy and Cybersecurity
  • Breach Preparedness, Response, Investigation, and Communication
  • Risk Management, Governance, and Compliance

Peter represents businesses and organizations across a...

(207) 791-1199
Don Frederico, Litigation Attorney, Pierce Atwood Law Firm, Class Action Defense

Don Frederico leads Pierce Atwood's class action defense practice, which received a National Tier One ranking in the 2017 and 2018 U.S. News-Best Lawyers "Best Law Firms" reports. A senior trial attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience, Don has represented defendants in a wide array of class actions in federal and state court, including in such areas as consumer fraud, product liability, labor and employment, environmental and toxic torts, antitrust, and civil RICO. 

Don has represented clients in such industries as financial services, building products, retail, pharmaceuticals, automotive, food and beverage, petroleum, chemical manufacturing, health care, high technology, and higher education. He frequently publishes and lectures before national and local bar and industry organizations on topics including class action practice, and serves as editor and contributing author to the firm's class action blog, First Class Defense.

Don has served as Special Discovery Master in complex litigation matters and is a past president of the Boston Bar Association. He began his career serving as a law clerk to United States District Judge Joseph L. Tauro in federal district court in Boston.

As a young attorney, Don was part of the successful trial team for one of the defendants in the lawsuit memorialized in the book and movie, "A Civil Action." He later served as lead national counsel with respect to class certification and Daubert motions for pharmaceutical companies in the "Fen-Phen" diet drug litigation, and served as lead class certification counsel for a Fortune 50 retailer in wage and hour lawsuits in various state and federal courts.

617 488-8141
Melanie Conroy Commercial Litigation Attorney Pierce Atwood Law Firm

Melanie Conroy focuses her practice on class action defense and complex commercial litigation. She has represented clients in connection with internal, government, and regulatory investigations, and has counseled boards of directors, board committees, and senior management on a broad range of matters, including securities, corporate governance, disclosure, and regulatory issues.

Melanie represents businesses and organizations across a wide range of industries, including life sciences, financial services, insurance, private equity, real estate, energy, media, consumer electronics,...