9th circuit clears was for class action against AOL

Legal News Line Jan. 20, 2009, 10:00am

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has cleared the way for a class action suit on behalf of California residents whose personal information was disclosed by AOL over a three-month period in 2006.

The court reversed a previous ruling against AOL, a division of Time Warner Inc., that said cases against the company could only be filed in Virginia, as stipulated in the user's agreement signed by AOL customers. Virginia does not allow class actions.

According to court documents, AOL "made publicly available the internet search records of more than 650,000 of its members. The records contained personal and sometimes embarrassing information about the members."

Lawyers for AOL asked the 9th circuit to dismiss the case based for improper venue, saying the user agreement members sign allows them to re-file their lawsuits only in Virginia.

"We hold the district court erred," court documents stated, "when it interpreted the forum selection cause to permit actions in either state or federal court in Virginia; the plain language of the clause -- courts "of" Virginia - demonstrates the parties chose Virginia state courts as the only for a for disputes. We reverse and remand for further proceedings."

The court's ruling said the forum selection clause in the user agreement violates California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act and is thereby unenforceable against California residents.

The class action suit filed in Oakland, Calif., on behalf of AOL costumers whose personal data was made available included things like "personal struggles with various highly personal issues, including sexuality, mental illness, recovery from alcoholism, and victimization of incest, physical abuse, domestic violence, adultery and rape."

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