Lukis v. Whitepages Incorporated
MEMORANDUM Opinion and Order written by the Honorable Gary Feinerman on 7/16/2021.Mailed notice.(jlj, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
STEPHANIE LUKIS, MANTAS NORVAISAS, and
SHAWN BROWN, individually and on behalf of all
others similarly situated,
19 C 4871
Judge Gary Feinerman
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Stephanie Lukis brought this putative class action against Whitepages Inc. in the Circuit
Court of Cook County, alleging violations of the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (“IRPA”), 765
ILCS 1075/1 et seq. Doc. 1-1. Whitepages removed the suit under the Class Action Fairness
Act (“CAFA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). Doc. 1. Last year, the court denied Whitepages’s motion
to dismiss for failure to state a claim and lack of personal jurisdiction, Docs. 36-37 (reported at
454 F. Supp. 3d 746 (N.D. Ill. 2020)), and later denied its motions for reconsideration, leave to
appeal, and summary judgment, Docs. 87-88 (reported at 2020 WL 6287369 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 27,
2020)). Earlier this year, the court denied Whitepages’s motion to compel arbitration of or
transfer Lukis’s claim and granted Lukis’s motion to amend the complaint to add two new
plaintiffs, Mantas Norvaisas and Shawn Brown. Docs. 174-175 (reported at __ F. Supp. 3d __,
2021 WL 1600194 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 23, 2021)). Following that ruling, Plaintiffs filed an amended
complaint joining Norvaisas and Brown, Doc. 176, and Whitepages invoked § 16(a)(1) of the
Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1), to appeal the denial of its motion to
arbitrate Lukis’s claim, Doc. 181. See Lukis v. Whitepages Inc., No. 21-1798 (7th Cir.).
Several motions are before the court. First, Whitepages moves to dismiss all Plaintiffs’
claims under Civil Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of standing. Doc. 182. Second, Whitepages moves to
dismiss the claims of Norvaisas and Brown under Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Ibid. Third, Whitepages moves to dismiss the claims of Norvaisas and Brown based on an
Washington under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) based on a forum selection clause in the Terms. Ibid.
Finally, Whitepages moves to stay the litigation entirely pending its appeal or, in the alternative,
to stay the litigation as to Lukis and limit proceedings on the claims of Norvaisas and Brown to
the issue of whether they agreed to arbitrate their claims. Doc. 184. Whitepages moved for a
protective order pending the outcome of those motions, Doc. 189, which the court granted in
part, limiting discovery (other than certain merits discovery ordered weeks earlier) to
arbitrability issues. Doc. 193 (reported at 2021 WL 2012238 (N.D. Ill. May 20, 2021)).
Whitepages’s motion to stay the litigation is granted as to Lukis but denied as to
Norvaisas and Brown, though discovery will remain limited to arbitrability issues. Whitepages’s
motions to dismiss based on standing and personal jurisdiction are denied. The court defers
ruling on Whitepages’s motion to compel arbitration of or transfer the claims of Norvaisas and
thus to the arbitration provision and forum selection clause.
The court assumes familiarity with its prior opinions and reviews the general factual
background, which for purposes of the pending motions is undisputed, only briefly. Whitepages
operates a website that sells background reports on people. Doc. 76 at ¶¶ 1, 6. Searching the
website for a person’s name reveals free information tied to that name. Id. at ¶ 4. Whitepages
offers more detailed reports for a fee, which it promotes by inviting users to purchase them when
viewing a free preview. Id. at ¶ 5; Doc. 80 at ¶¶ 20, 29. The complaint alleges that Whitepages
violated the IRPA by using Plaintiffs’ identities to promote the sale of its paid reports. Doc. 176
at ¶¶ 52-58; see 765 ILCS 1075/30(a) (“A person may not use an individual’s identity for
commercial purposes during the individual’s lifetime without having obtained previous written
consent … .”); id. § 1075/5 (defining “commercial purpose” to include “advertising or promoting
products, merchandise, goods, or services”). The court will review additional relevant facts as
needed in the discussion that follows.
Motion to Stay
The court begins with Whitepages’s motion to stay, as that motion implicates the court’s
ability to address the other pending motions. As noted, Whitepages moves to stay this litigation
in its entirety based on its appeal of decision denying arbitration of Lukis’s claim, or, in the
alternative, to stay Lukis’s claim and limit proceedings on the claims of Norvaisas and Brown to
the question whether they agreed to arbitrate their claims. Doc. 184 at 1; Doc. 185 at 6, 8.
The motion is granted as to Lukis’s claim. A notice of appeal under § 16(a) of the FAA
“divests the district court of the power to proceed with the aspects of the case that have been
transferred to the court of appeals.” Bradford-Scott Data Corp. v. Physician Computer Network,
Inc., 128 F.3d 504, 506 (7th Cir. 1997). There is an exception to this rule: “Either the court of
appeals or the district court may declare that the appeal is frivolous, and if it is the district court
may carry on with the case.” Ibid. Lukis opposes a stay of her claim, arguing that Whitepages’s
appeal is frivolous. Doc. 199 at 1-2.
In the sanctions context, and so in this context as well, “[a]n appeal is frivolous ‘when the
result is obvious or when the appellant’s argument is wholly without merit.’” BLET GCA UP v.
Union Pac. R.R. Co., 988 F.3d 409, 414 (7th Cir. 2021) (quoting Arnold v. Villarreal, 853 F.3d
384, 389 (7th Cir. 2017)). Although the court believes that it correctly denied Whitepages’s
motion to compel arbitration of Lukis’s claim, it hesitates to say that the result was “obvious” or
that Whitepages’s views were “wholly without merit.” Specifically, while it was
straightforwardly plain that Whitepages waived its right to arbitrate Lukis’s claim through its
lengthy and unjustified delay in moving to compel arbitration, the threshold question—whether
the parties may or did delegate to the arbitrator the issue of waiver through litigation conduct—
was complex, even if the answer was ultimately clear under the FAA and relevant precedents.
2021 WL 1600194, at *3-6. Lukis’s claim is therefore stayed pending Whitepages’s appeal, and
the rest of this opinion addresses only the claims of Norvaisas and Brown.
Norvaisas’s and Brown’s claims will move forward in this court. There is no question
that their claims remain properly within this court’s jurisdiction, as the claims do not fall within
the “aspects of the case involved in [Whitepages’s] appeal.” Griggs v. Provident Consumer
Disc. Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58 (1982); cf. Wis. Mut. Ins. Co. v. United States, 441 F.3d 502, 505 (7th
Cir. 2006) (holding that, in a case where multiple litigants intend to file notices of appeal, the
filing of an appeal by one litigant does not divest the district court of jurisdiction over the claims
involving the other litigants). Analogously, when a district court enters partial final judgment as
to one party under Rule 54(b) and an appeal is taken, there is no question that proceedings
continue as to the remaining parties before the district court. See Doe v. City of Chicago, 360
F.3d 667, 673 (7th Cir. 2004) (“[W]henever there are multiple parties, an order that finally
resolves a party’s liability is eligible to be made final, and therefore appealable, under Rule
54(b), though the case continues in the district court between the other parties.”).
In seeking a stay of Norvaisas’s and Brown’s claims, Whitepages argues that a stay
would be more efficient because all three Plaintiffs ultimately intend to move together for class
certification. Doc. 185 at 7-8; see Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936) (“[T]he power
to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of
the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for
litigants.”). This argument falters because, as explained below, arbitrability issues concerning
the claims of Norvaisas and Brown must be addressed through further proceedings. So the
quickest route to “simplify the issues in question and streamline the trial,” In re Groupon
Derivative Litig., 882 F. Supp. 2d 1043, 1045 (N.D. Ill. 2012), is to work toward resolving those
arbitrability issues while Whitepages’s appeal pends before the Seventh Circuit.
That said, and by the same token, the court grants Whitepages’s request to limit the
proceedings to matters concerning arbitrability, absent further court order or the parties’
agreement. Indeed, the court already limited discovery on the claims of Norvaisas and Brown in
that manner. 2021 WL 2012238, at *2. That limit will remain in place.
A federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over a claim only if the plaintiff has Article
III standing to bring it. See MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 935
F.3d 573, 581 (7th Cir. 2019). “[T]he ‘irreducible constitutional minimum’ of standing consists
of three elements. The plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly
traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a
favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citation
omitted) (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)). “To establish injury in
fact, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered ‘an invasion of a legally protected interest’ that
is ‘concrete and particularized’ and ‘actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.’” Id. at
1548 (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560).
A challenge to standing “can take the form of a facial or a factual attack on the plaintiff’s
allegations.” Bazile v. Fin. Sys. of Green Bay, Inc., 983 F.3d 274, 279 (7th Cir. 2020) (citing
Apex Dig., Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 443-44 (7th Cir. 2009)). Whitepages
mounts only a facial attack on the claims of Norvaisas and Brown, arguing that they “have failed
to plead a concrete injury to establish Article III standing.” Doc. 183 at 12. Whitepages thus
“tests whether the [complaint’s] allegations, taken as true, support an inference that the elements
of standing exist.” Bazile, 983 F.3d at 279.
In evaluating a facial attack on standing, the court must “accept all well-pleaded factual
allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Prairie Rivers
Network v. Dynegy Midwest Generation, LLC, __ F.4th __, 2021 WL 2644219, at *2 (7th Cir.
June 28, 2021). Norvaisas and Brown allege that they discovered that Whitepages used their
identities in advertisements, that they never provided consent for Whitepages to do so, that this
use caused them emotional distress, and that they do not want Whitepages to use their identities
for any commercial purpose. Doc. 176 at ¶¶ 30, 32, 34, 36, 37, 39, 41, 43. Whitepages argues
that those alleged injuries “are, at best, abstract and constitute nothing more than … technical
statutory violations.” Doc. 183 at 12.
To be concrete, the plaintiff’s injury “must be de facto; that is, it must actually exist,”
meaning that it must be “real, and not abstract.” Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1548 (internal quotation
marks omitted). Both “tangible” and “intangible” injuries, even those that are “difficult to prove
or measure,” can be concrete. Id. at 1549. An “intangible harm” constitutes an injury in fact if it
“has a close relationship to a harm that has traditional been regarded as providing a basis for a
lawsuit in English or American courts.” Ibid.; see also ibid. (stating that “the law has long
permitted recovery by certain tort victims even if their harms may be difficult to prove or
measure”). That historical inquiry “asks whether plaintiffs have identified a close historical or
common-law analogue for their asserted injury.” TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, 141 S. Ct. 2190,
__ (2021). For example, in Gadelhak v. AT&T Services, Inc., 950 F.3d 458 (7th Cir. 2020)
(Barrett, J.), the Seventh Circuit held that “unwanted text messages can constitute a concrete
injury-in-fact” because “[t]he common law has long recognized actions at law against defendants
who invaded the private solitude of another by committing the tort of ‘intrusion upon
seclusion.’” Id. at 462-63 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B (ALI 1977)).
Violations of the IRPA are an easy case under the governing test. The common law
recognized a “right of publicity,” also called the “appropriation of likeness” tort. Douglass v.
Hustler Mag., Inc., 769 F.2d 1128, 1138 (7th Cir. 1985) (referring to “the commercialappropriation branch of the right of privacy—what is sometimes called the ‘right of publicity,’”
meaning “the right to prevent others from using one’s name or picture for commercial purposes
without consent”); see also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652C (ALI 1977) (“One who
appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another is subject to liability to the
other for invasion of his privacy.”). The IRPA codified that common law tort, providing that
“[t]he right to control and to choose whether and how to use an individual’s identity for
commercial purposes is recognized as each individual’s right of publicity,” 765 ILCS 1075/10,
and that “[t]he rights and remedies provided for in this Act are meant to supplant those available
under the common law,” id. § 1075/60. Indeed, when introducing the IRPA in the Illinois
General Assembly, its sponsor stated: “[W]hat this legislation does is it codifies the common law
right of publicity in Illinois.” H.R. Journal, 90th Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. 224, 225 (Ill. Apr. 24,
1997). Given this backdrop, the Seventh Circuit and the Appellate Court of Illinois
unsurprisingly have recognized the continuity between the common law and the IRPA. See
Dancel v. Groupon, Inc., 949 F.3d 999, 1009 (7th Cir. 2019) (“[T]he IRPA has supplanted the
common law right of publicity.”); Blair v. Nev. Landing P’ship, 859 N.E.2d 1188, 1192 (Ill.
App. 2006) (“To allege a statutory claim of appropriation of likeness under the [IRPA], one must
set forth essentially the same three elements that were required for a common-law claim of
appropriation of likeness.”).
It necessarily follows, under the analysis articulated in Spokeo and recently reiterated in
TransUnion, that an IRPA violation inflicts a concrete injury-in-fact under Article III. This
defeats Whitepages’s facial attack on Norvaisas’s and Brown’s standing. (As noted, Whitepages
removed the suit under CAFA. Doc. 1. The amended complaint invokes CAFA as well,
Doc. 176 at ¶ 3, and its class allegations convey an intent to seek certification of a Rule 23(b)(3)
class with Norvaisas and Brown as lead plaintiffs, id. at ¶¶ 47 (alleging predominance), 49
Whitepages next argues that the court lacks personal jurisdiction over Whitepages as to
the claims of Norvaisas and Brown. Doc. 183 at 13. As Whitepages recognizes, the court
rejected a materially identical argument as to Lukis’s claim, 454 F. Supp. 3d at 756-60, and so
Whitepages reasserts the defense “to preserve the issue for appeal,” Doc. 183 at 13 n.6. As
explained in the court’s prior ruling, exercising personal jurisdiction over Whitepages does not
violate due process because “Whitepages purposefully directed its activities towards Illinois;
[Norvaisas’s and Brown’s] alleged injuries arise from its forum-related activities; and exercising
personal jurisdiction over it would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial
justice.” 454 F. Supp. 3d at 757. The court adheres to that ruling here.
Arbitration Provision and Forum Selection Clause
Whitepages moves to dismiss or transfer the suit based on certain dispute resolution
include an arbitration clause, which states in relevant part: “ANY DISPUTE, CLAIM OR
CONTROVERSY BETWEEN YOU AND WHITEPAGES RELATING IN ANY WAY TO
THIS AGREEMENT OR YOUR ACCESS TO OR USE OF THE SERVICES OR CONTENT
… WILL BE RESOLVED BY BINDING ARBITRATION IF IT CANNOT BE RESOLVED
THROUGH NEGOTIATION … .” Doc. 90-1 at p. 14, § 12.10. The provisions also include a
forum selection clause directing any non-arbitrable “Dispute”—as “Dispute” is defined in the
Terms—to “the courts in the state of Washington, King County, or the United States District
Court for the Western District of Washington.” Ibid.
Before proceeding, the court pauses to consider the appropriate way to understand
Whitepages’s arbitration motion. In denying Whitepages’s motion to compel arbitration of
Lukis’s claim, the court cited Halim v. Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery, Inc., 516 F.3d 557, 561
(7th Cir. 2008), for the proposition that the motion was properly viewed as a motion to compel
arbitration and stay the judicial proceedings. 2021 WL 1600194, at *1. Whitepages takes issue
with that characterization, arguing that where, as here, the potential arbitration is to take place
outside the judicial district, the district court cannot compel arbitration and instead must dismiss
the suit for improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3). Doc. 183 at 14.
There is precedent to support both positions. In Halim, the Seventh Circuit affirmed an
Illinois district court’s decision to compel arbitration and stay the judicial proceedings, reasoning
that “the proper course of action when a party seeks to invoke an arbitration clause is to stay the
proceedings rather than to dismiss outright.” 516 F.3d at 561. The parties’ arbitration agreement
in Halim directed that the arbitration take place in Georgia, see Halim v. Great Gatsby’s Auction
Gallery, Inc., No. 03 C 8414 (N.D. Ill.), ECF No. 3 at 6 (“[T]he subject agreement … contains a
binding arbitration provision that states that all disputes between Halim and Gatsby must be
resolved through binding arbitration and such arbitration will be held in Atlanta, Georgia.”), so
Halim supports the view that a district court can compel arbitration and stay the case regardless
of the arbitral locale. Other decisions support the contrary view that a Rule 12(b)(3) dismissal is
the appropriate course when the arbitral locale is outside the district. See Faulkenberg v. CB Tax
Franchise Sys., LP, 637 F.3d 801, 808 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[W]e have held that a Rule 12(b)(3)
motion to dismiss for improper venue, rather than a motion to stay or to compel arbitration, is the
proper procedure to use when the arbitration clause requires arbitration outside the confines of
the district court’s district.”); Cont’l Cas. Co. v. Am. Nat. Ins. Co., 417 F.3d 727, 733 (7th Cir.
2005) (“The district court ultimately dismissed this case because the [agreements] required
arbitration in other districts. … [W]e have held that such dismissal properly is requested under
Rule 12(b)(3).”) (citations omitted).
The Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. United States
District Court for the Western District of Texas, 571 U.S. 49 (2013), appears to resolve the
dispute in favor of Halim and against Faulkenberg and Continental Casualty. A key premise of
Faulkenberg was that “a motion to dismiss based on a contractual arbitration clause is
appropriately ‘conceptualized as an objection to venue, and hence properly raised under Rule
12(b)(3).’” Faulkenberg, 637 F.3d at 807 (quoting Auto. Mechs. Local 701 Welfare & Pension
Funds v. Vanguard Car Rental USA, Inc., 502 F.3d 740, 746 (7th Cir. 2007)). But Atlantic
Marine made clear that only federal venue laws, and not contractual forum selection clauses,
govern whether venue is proper in a particular district: “Section 1406(a) and Rule 12(b)(3) allow
dismissal only when venue is ‘wrong’ or ‘improper.’ Whether venue is ‘wrong’ or ‘improper’
depends exclusively on whether the court in which the case was brought satisfies the
requirements of federal venue laws, and those provisions say nothing about a forum-selection
clause.” 571 U.S. at 55. Atlantic Marine thus casts substantial doubt on decisions, like
Faulkenberg, that are premised on the notion that arbitration and forum selection clauses affect
the propriety of venue and thus fall within the writ of Rule 12(b)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Cf.
Brickstructures, Inc. v. Coaster Dynamix, Inc., 952 F.3d 887, 890 (7th Cir. 2020) (rejecting a
party’s argument that a motion invoking an arbitration provision must be brought under Rule
12(b)(3), and holding that the “motion to compel arbitration was in substance a motion under § 4
of the FAA,” though the arbitration agreement did not indicate any arbitral locale).
Regardless of how to properly style Whitepages’s arbitration motion, circumstances
make it appropriate to defer resolving the motion. Section 2 of the FAA states, in relevant part:
A written provision in any … contract evidencing a transaction involving
commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such
contract or transaction … shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save
upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any
9 U.S.C. § 2. Section 2 “mandates enforcement of valid, written arbitration agreements,”
Tinder v. Pinkerton Sec., 305 F.3d 728, 733 (7th Cir. 2002), and “embodies both a liberal federal
policy favoring arbitration and the fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract,”
Gore v. Alltel Commc’ns, LLC, 666 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).
That said, “because arbitration is a matter of contract, a party cannot be required to submit to
arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks
omitted). Accordingly, “[u]nder the FAA, arbitration should be compelled if three elements are
present: (1) an enforceable written agreement to arbitrate, (2) a dispute within the scope of the
arbitration agreement, and (3) a refusal to arbitrate.” Scheurer v. Fromm Family Foods LLC,
863 F.3d 748, 752 (7th Cir. 2017).
Courts “evaluate agreements to arbitrate under the same standards as any other contract,”
Tinder, 305 F.3d at 733, which include “all general principles of state law,” Green v. U.S. Cash
Advance Ill., LLC, 724 F.3d 787, 791 (7th Cir. 2013). In particular, “[t]o determine whether a
contract’s arbitration clause applies to a given dispute, federal courts apply state-law principles
of contract formation.” Gore, 666 F.3d at 1032; see also Faulkenberg, 637 F.3d at 809
(“Whether the parties have validly agreed to arbitrate is governed by state-law principles of
contract formation.”). Whitepages argues that Illinois law governs the issue of contract
formation, Doc. 183 at 16, and Norvaisas and Brown do not dispute that assertion, Doc. 198 at 4,
so the court will apply Illinois law.
Whitepages presents two grounds for finding that Norvaisas and Brown assented in a
with the fact that in July 2020, Plaintiffs’ counsel—Roberto Costales—purchased a Whitepages
product and clicked through the Terms while researching Lukis’s opposition to Whitepages’s
summary judgment motion. Doc. 131-2 at 13 (12:19-23). At that time, Lukis was the only
plaintiff, and the motion to add Norvaisas and Brown as plaintiffs would not be filed until
months later, in early November 2020. Doc. 97. Whitepages nonetheless argues that Costales’s
actions in July 2020 bound Norvaisas and Brown to the Terms because Costales “was acting as
the agent for his putative class representative clients (including Norvaisas and Brown) when he
agreed to be bound by Whitepages’ Terms.” Doc. 183 at 18. Norvaisas and Brown counter that
they were not clients of Costales in July 2020, Doc. 198 at 2, and Costales avers that he had not
even made their acquaintance at that time, Doc. 198-1 at ¶¶ 2-3.
Norvaisas and Brown have the better of this argument. Before class certification, there is
no class and no class counsel. See Daniels v. Bursey, 430 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2005) (“Since
a class was never certified, appellants were not members of a class, and therefore could not be
bound [by a settlement agreement].”); Morlan v. Universal Guar. Life Ins. Co., 298 F.3d 609,
616 (7th Cir. 2002) (“[U]ntil certification there is no class action but merely the prospect of one;
the only action is the suit by the named plaintiff.”). Putative class counsel therefore does not
represent absent members of the putative class or act as their agent. See ABA Formal Op. 07445 (2007) (“Before the class has been certified by a court, the lawyer for plaintiff will represent
one or more persons with whom a client-lawyer relationship clearly has been established. As to
persons who are potential members of a class if it is certified, however, no client-lawyer
relationship has been established.”). Any contrary rule would have absurd consequences,
allowing attorneys to ratify contracts on behalf of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of
people just by filing a class action complaint.
In its reply brief, Whitepages substantially shifts gears, arguing that Norvaisas and Brown
impliedly ratified all past actions of Costales when they agreed to become his clients and
putative class representatives. Doc. 207 at 10-11. That argument is doubly forfeited. First, it
appears initially in a reply brief. See O’Neal v. Reilly, 961 F.3d 973, 974 (7th Cir. 2020) (“[W]e
have repeatedly recognized that district courts are entitled to treat an argument raised for the first
time in a reply brief as waived.”); Narducci v. Moore, 572 F.3d 313, 324 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[T]he
district court is entitled to find that an argument raised for the first time in a reply brief is
forfeited.”). Second, Whitepages cites no Illinois authority addressing when a principal is bound
by the past acts of an agent—and, in particular, by acts taken before the agency relationship even
arose—which also forfeits the point. See Williams v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., 982 F.3d 495, 511
(7th Cir. 2020) (“[P]erfunctory and underdeveloped arguments, and arguments that are
unsupported by pertinent authority, are waived.”).
Whitepages’s second ground for contract formation is that Norvaisas’s and Brown’s own
provision, because they “would have navigated to a page that made the Terms available.”
Doc. 183 at 16. The complaint’s allegations plainly suggest that Norvaisas and Brown visited
the Whitepages website. Doc. 176 at ¶¶ 10, 30, 37. And Whitepages presents evidence that the
bottom of every webpage contains a link to the Terms. Doc. 90-1 at ¶ 6.
The question here is whether those facts demonstrate that Norvaisas and Brown assented
to the Terms. “Formation of a contract requires mutual assent in virtually all jurisdictions;
Illinois courts use an objective approach to that question.” Sgouros v. TransUnion Corp., 817
F.3d 1029, 1034 (7th Cir. 2016). The inquiry is an objective one, measured from the perspective
of “a reasonable person in [the consumer’s] shoes.” Id. at 1035. In terminology some courts
have adopted, Whitepages asserts that Norvaisas and Brown entered into “‘browsewrap’
agreements,” which can form when companies “post terms and conditions on a website via a
hyperlink at the bottom of the screen” and a person browses the website. Meyer v. Uber Techs.,
Inc., 868 F.3d 66, 75 (2d Cir. 2017).
Determining whether an internet user has agreed to online terms of service is “a factintensive inquiry.” Sgouros, 817 F.3d at 1034-35. Determining whether a user entered into a
browsewrap agreement is especially fact-dependent: “Because no affirmative action is required
by the website user to agree to the terms of a contract other than his or her use of the website, the
determination of the validity of a browsewrap contract depends on whether the user has actual or
constructive knowledge of a website’s terms and conditions.” Van Tassell v. United Mktg. Grp.,
LLC, 795 F. Supp. 2d 770, 790 (N.D. Ill. 2011). Accordingly, as Whitepages suggests, the
proper course is to allow further factual development via discovery concerning Norvaisas’s and
Brown’s use of and activity on the Whitepages website. Doc. 183 at 18-19; Doc. 207 at 13-14.
Section 4 of the FAA anticipates the possibility of factual disputes as to contract
formation, providing: “If the making of the arbitration agreement … be in issue, the court shall
proceed summarily to the trial thereof.” 9 U.S.C. § 4; see Deputy v. Lehman Bros., 345 F.3d
494, 509-10 (7th Cir. 2003) (“Section 4 … required the court to hold a trial if the making of the
arbitration agreement was in issue.”); Hansen v. LMB Mortg. Servs., Inc., 1 F.4th 667, __ (9th
Cir. 2021) (“[O]nce a district court concludes that there are genuine disputes of material fact as
to whether the parties formed an arbitration agreement, the court must proceed without delay to a
trial on arbitrability and hold any motion to compel arbitration in abeyance until the factual
issues have been resolved.”). The court therefore will defer ruling on Whitepages’s arbitrability
motion pending further proceedings on whether Norvaisas and Brown entered into an agreement
to arbitrate. See Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, 2018 WL 2130434, at *3 (N.D.
Ill. May 9, 2018) (adopting this procedural approach).
For the same reasons, a ruling on Whitepages’s alternative request to transfer the claims
of Norvaisas and Brown to the Western District of Washington pursuant to the forum selection
clause would also be premature. The forum selection clause can bind Norvaisas and Brown only
if they ratified the Terms. See Atlantic Marine, 571 U.S. at 62 (“When the parties have agreed to
a valid forum-selection clause, a district court should ordinarily transfer the case to the forum
specified in that clause.”) (emphasis added). Because contract formation remains unresolved, the
question whether the forum selection clause in fact covers Norvaisas’s and Brown’s claims is not
properly before the court.
Granted, in a prior ruling, the court held that Lukis’s IRPA claim is not a “Dispute”
covered by the forum selection clause. 2021 WL 16001944, at *10. Unlike Norvaisas and
Brown, however, Lukis conceded contract formation, so to resolve whether her suit should be
transferred pursuant to the forum selection clause, the court had to determine whether her claim
qualified as a “Dispute” within the meaning of the clause. The present motion does not yet
present that question because contract formation remains unresolved.
Before concluding, it bears mention that today’s result is wholly consistent with the
court’s denial of Whitepages’s motion to compel arbitration of Lukis’s claim without allowing
for further discovery on contract formation. Id. at *7. As just noted, Lukis did not challenge
contract formation; rather, as to arbitration, she argued only that Whitepages had waived its right
to compel arbitration. Doc. 103 at 1-4. There was thus no possible need for further discovery on
Whitepages’s motion to stay pending its appeal is granted as to Lukis’s claim and denied
as to the claims of Norvaisas and Brown, though litigation on those claims will be limited for the
time being to arbitrability issues. Whitepages’s motions to dismiss the claims of Norvaisas and
Brown based on standing and personal jurisdiction are denied. The court defers ruling on
Whitepages’s motions based on the arbitration provision and forum selection clause, pending
further proceedings on the issue of contract formation between Whitepages, on the one hand, and
Norvaisas and Brown, on the other.
July 16, 2021
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?