Jurgens v. Build.com, Inc.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice is GRANTED. ECF No. 24 . IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all other pending motions are DENIED as moot. Signed by District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig on 11/13/2017. (KCB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
Case No. 4:17-cv-00783-AGF
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This putative class action arises out of Defendant Build.com, Inc.’s alleged
interception of its online customers’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, and credit
card information (defined in the complaint, collectively, as “Credit Card Details”), and
disclosure of those details to unrelated third parties, without the customers’ consent. The
matter is now before the Court on Defendant’s motion (ECF No. 24) to dismiss the
second amended complaint of named Plaintiff Rhonda Jurgens with prejudice, for failure
to state a claim and lack of standing. For the following reasons, the Court will grant
On or about March 29, 2014, Plaintiff used a computer to visit Defendant’s
website, on which consumers could purchase home improvement merchandise. On the
website, Plaintiff selected kitchen plumbing hardware and added it to her online shopping
cart, for a purchase price totaling $703.53. When Plaintiff clicked a button to begin the
check-out process, the website displayed a payment page, including a payment form
asking Plaintiff to enter her Credit Card Details. The payment page also included a
button to “Review Order.”
According to the second amended complaint, the following then transpired:
16. Plaintiff entered her Credit Card Details on the Payment Page. As she
did so, with each keystroke that appeared on her monitor display, her
changes were transmitted to a file in her browser referred to as the “DOM”
(Document Object Model)—an internal browser capture of the real-time
state of an active web page—in this case, the Payment Page, the payment
form on it, and the payment data Plaintiff entered on it.
17. The DOM is a transient storage file, incidental to the receipt and
sending of web communications.
B. Defendant’s Interception of Plaintiff’s Credit Card Details
18. While Plaintiff entered her Credit Card Details on Defendant’s Page, as
described above, it was not her intent to communicate with Defendant or
any other party; rather, it was her intent to fill in the payment data in the
payment form requested by Defendant, for transmittal to Defendant if and
when she chose to click the button to confirm her purchase intent.
19. Plaintiff’s entry of Credit Card Details was an electronic
communication to temporary browser storage, as described above, but not
to Defendant, and Defendant did not have consent or the right in any way to
intercept her Credit Card Details . . . .
ECF No. 22 ¶¶ 16-19.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant intercepted her Credit Card Details “through the
Plaintiff’s computer via the Internet from Defendant’s computer facilities.” Id. ¶ 21.
Defendant’s explicit instructions, built into its Payment Page,” and Defendant intercepted
Plaintiff’s Credit Card Details while those details “were temporarily stored in Plaintiff’s
browser, before transmission over the Internet.” Id. ¶¶ 29, 39.
Plaintiff further alleges that “by operation of those same scripts,” Defendant
disclosed Plaintiff’s credit card information to six or more third parties. Id. ¶¶ 24, 26.
These third parties were “providers of services such as image and video advertising, user
tracking and profiling, and tracking of user mouse movements and clicks—none of which
is necessary to process payments.” Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff alleges that, for “other third parties,
Defendant coded its Payment Page to restrict scripts . . . [such that] Defendant did not use
the scripts to access Plaintiff’s Credit Card Details in the DOM or disclose them to the
third party.” Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff points to this “differential treatment” as evidence that
“Defendant engaged in interception and disclosure of Credit Card Details in the DOM
with knowledge and intent.” Id.
breaches, and because of these risks, such scripts are in violation of payment card
industry standards and are not used by more security-conscious online retailers. In
support of these allegations, Plaintiff cites news articles dated in 2011 and 2014. Id. ¶ 33
n.5. Plaintiff also states that the source of her information in this regard is her “counsel’s
investigation.” Id. ¶ 34.
Although Plaintiff accessed Defendant’s website and made her purchases on
March 29, 2014, she did not file suit until December 30, 2016.1 Plaintiff alleges that she
Plaintiff’s original complaint, filed in state court, alleged that Defendant’s use of
“did not have the technical knowledge or reasonable means to detect the [unrestricted
implications for privacy [and] security,” and that she only learned of this violation
“through the investigation of her counsel in August 2016.” Id. ¶¶ 47, 48.
Plaintiff’s second amended complaint asserts three claims: (1) Violations of the
Wiretap Act, as amended by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986
(“ECPA”) 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a) (Interception); (2) Violations of the Wiretap Act, 18
U.S.C. § 2511(1)(c) (Disclosure); and (3) Common-Law Unjust Enrichment. Plaintiff
seeks injunctive relief, the maximum allowable statutory damages, punitive damages, and
Plaintiff brings this action on her own on behalf and on behalf of two proposed
classes: (1) a “Wiretap Act Class” encompassing “[a]ll individuals in the United States
who used payment cards to purchase merchandise on the www.build.com website during
the Wiretap Act Class Period,” defined as “two years preceding the date of filing of the
Original Petition in this matter and extending to the date [of class certification]”; and (2)
a “Missouri Class” encompassing “[a]ll individual Missouri citizens aged 18 years and
over who used payment cards to purchase merchandise on the www.build.com website
during the Missouri Class Period . . . where such merchandise was primarily for personal,
computer tampering and consumer protection statutes, and constituted an invasion of
privacy and unjust enrichment under Missouri common law. Defendant removed the
case to this Court on February 22, 2017, under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”),
28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). On July 10, 2017, with the Court’s leave, Plaintiff filed the
second amended complaint now under consideration. For purposes of this motion only,
Defendant does not contest that the second amended complaint “relates back” to
Plaintiff’s original complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c).
family, or household uses,” with the Missouri Class Period defined as “five years
preceding the date of filing of the Original Petition in this matter and extending to the
date of [class certification].” Id. ¶¶ 58-59.
ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES
Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for violation of the Wiretap
Act (Counts 1 and 2) because Plaintiff has not alleged any interception of an electronic
communication. Defendant argues that, accepting Plaintiff’s allegations as true,
Plaintiff’s Credit Card Details were acquired by Defendant from storage in Plaintiff’s
computer, rather than, as required by the Wiretap Act, as part of an electronic
communication that Plaintiff was transmitting beyond her own computer.
Alternatively, Defendant argues that to the extent Plaintiff implies that the
communication of her Credit Card Details was not complete when it reached the storage
in her computer, Plaintiff still fails to state a claim because the intended recipient of the
communication was Defendant. Defendant notes that there is no private cause of action
under the Wiretap Act against a person who is a party to the communication.
Defendant further argues that Plaintiff’s Wiretap Act claim is untimely under the
Wiretap Act’s two-year statute of limitations, which runs from the date on which the
plaintiff had a reasonable opportunity to discover the alleged violation. Defendant
contends that Plaintiff had a reasonable opportunity to discover the alleged violation
when she accessed Defendant’s payment page to purchase merchandise more than two
years before filing suit.
With respect to the unjust enrichment claim (Count 3), Defendant argues that
Plaintiff has failed to plead an injury-in-fact to give her standing. Defendant also
contends that Plaintiff fails to state a claim because she has not identified a benefit she
conferred on Defendant that would be unjust for Defendant to retain.
In response, Plaintiff argues that she has sufficiently alleged that Defendant
intercepted her electronic communications at a time prior to the time Defendant became a
party to those communications, which is enough to state a claim under the Wiretap Act.
Specifically, Plaintiff points to her allegations that Defendant, using the unrestricted
transient browser storage area used for receiving and sending web communications from
the currently active web page.” ECF No. 30 at 3. Plaintiff argues that the interception
was contemporaneous with the transmission of the communications, that the
communications were being made using a system affecting interstate commerce (the
Internet), and that Defendant was not a party to the communications at the moment of
interception because Plaintiff had not yet designated Defendant to process her payment.
Plaintiff contends that “[t]here is also nothing in the statute that requires Plaintiff to
identify the other parties, if any, to her communications.” Id. at 11.
Plaintiff also argues that her Wiretap Act claims are not time-barred because she
filed suit less than two years from the time she had a reasonable opportunity to discover
the violation. Plaintiff contends, as she did in her complaint, that she first learned of
Defendant’s conduct through her attorney’s investigation in August 2016, and that she
lacked the technical knowledge or skill to discover the violation on her own.
With respect to her unjust enrichment claim, Plaintiff argues that she has
sufficiently pled an injury in fact for purposes of standing, as well as facts in support of
each element of an unjust enrichment claim, by alleging that part of the $703.53 she paid
for the merchandise (which merchandise Plaintiff acknowledges she received in full)
should have been, but was not, spent on adequate data security measures.
In reply, Defendant reiterates that the allegations in the complaint conclusively
demonstrate that no Wiretap Act violation occurred, that the Wiretap Act claims are
untimely in any event, and that Plaintiff lacks standing and fails to adequately allege a
claim for unjust enrichment.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Wartman v. United Food & Commercial Workers Local 653, 871 F.3d 638, 640
(8th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). Moreover, “Article III standing is a threshold question
in every federal court case,” and “requires three elements: (1) injury in fact; (2) a causal
connection between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) the likelihood that
the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” E.L. by White v. Voluntary
Interdistrict Choice Corp., 864 F.3d 932, 935 (8th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted).
On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or for lack of standing, the
reviewing court accepts the plaintiff’s factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Torti v. Hoag, 868 F.3d 666, 671 (8th Cir.
2017) (failure to state a claim); E.L. by White, 864 F.3d at 935 (standing). But “[c]ourts
are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, and
factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”
Torti, 868 F.3d at 671 (citations omitted).
Wiretap Act (Counts I and II)
“The post-ECPA Wiretap Act provides a private right of action against one who
‘intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept
or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication.’” In re
Pharmatrak, Inc., 329 F.3d 9, 18 (1st Cir. 2003) (citing 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a); 18
U.S.C. § 2520 (providing a private right of action)). The Act also imposes liability on a
person who “intentionally discloses” the contents of an electronic communication,
“knowing or having reason to know” the communication was intercepted in violation of
the Wiretap Act. 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(c). “Thus, interception is a necessary element for
each type of violation.” Bruce v. McDonald, No. 3:13CV221-MHT, 2014 WL 931522, at
*2 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 10, 2014).
“A plaintiff pleads a prima facie case [of interception] under the Act by showing
that the defendant (1) intentionally (2) intercepted, endeavored to intercept or procured
another person to intercept or endeavor to intercept (3) the contents of (4) an electronic
communication, (5) using a device.” In re Google Inc. Cookie Placement Consumer
Privacy Litig., 806 F.3d 125, 135 (3d Cir. 2015) (“Google”).
The Wiretap Act defines “intercept” as “the aural or other acquisition of the
contents of any wire, electronic, or oral communication through the use of any electronic,
mechanical, or other device.” 18 U.S.C. § 2510(4). An “electronic communication” is
“any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data, or intelligence of any nature
transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or
photooptical system that affects interstate or foreign commerce.” Id. § 2510(12).
“The Act does not explicitly require that the acquisition of a communication occur
contemporaneously with the transmission of the communication. Nonetheless, courts
interpreting this language have uniformly concluded that an intercept requires
contemporaneity.” Luis v. Zang, 833 F.3d 619, 627 (6th Cir. 2016) (collecting cases); see
also Porters Bldg. Ctrs., Inc. v. Sprint Lumber, No. 16-06055-CV-SJ-ODS, 2017 WL
4413288, at *8-9 (W.D. Mo. Oct. 2, 2017) (“The Eighth Circuit has not decided this
particular issue, but most courts have determined interception must occur during
transmission. The Court agrees with the findings of the majority of the courts.”) (internal
citations omitted). These courts have reasoned that contemporaneity is necessary to
distinguish “electronic communications” (the subject of the Wiretap Act, as amended by
Title I of the ECPA) from “electronic storage” (the subject of Title II of the ECPA, also
known as the “Stored Communications Act,” which covers access to electronic
information stored in third party computers).2 See, e.g., Luis, 833 F.3d at 627-28 (“Once
the transmission of the communication has ended, the communication ceases to be a
communication at all. The former communication instead becomes part of ‘electronic
Liability under the Wiretap Act is also subject to certain statutory exceptions,
including, as relevant here, an exception for parties to the communication:
Plaintiff does not assert a claim under the Stored Communications Act.
It shall not be unlawful under this chapter for a person not acting under
color of law to intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication where
such person is a party to the communication . . . .
18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(d) (“party exception”).
Finally, “[a] civil action under [the Wiretap Act] may not be commenced later than
two years after the date upon which the claimant first has a reasonable opportunity to
discover the violation.” 18 U.S.C. § 2520(e).
a. Party Exception
Taking Plaintiff’s well-pled allegations as true, if there was an “electronic
communication” here, Defendant was a party to it. Indeed, Plaintiff alleges that the entry
of her Credit Card Details was “an electronic communication to temporary browser
storage,” or the “DOM,” which Plaintiff describes as “a transient storage file, incidental
to the receipt and sending of web communications,” for eventual “transmittal to
Defendant.”3 ECF No. 22 ¶¶ 17-19. While “[t]ransmissions of completed online forms”
on a website “constitute electronic communications,” In re Pharmatrak, Inc., 329 F.3d at
18, the intended recipient of such transmission is a party to the communication, Google,
Plaintiff perhaps uses the phrase “transient storage” to allude to a line of cases
holding that communications—in particular, email messages—that are acquired by a
third party while in “transient electronic storage” on the way to their final recipient,
satisfy any “contemporaneity” requirement under the Wiretap Act. E.g., United States v.
Councilman, 418 F.3d 67, 79-80 (1st Cir. 2005) (holding that communications “en route
to the intended recipients” constitute electronic communications even if the data is
acquired by a third party while temporarily stored in a network computer along the route
to the final destination); see also United States v. Szymuszkiewicz, 622 F.3d 701, 705-06
(7th Cir. 2010), as amended (Nov. 29, 2010). But these cases do not save Plaintiff’s
claim because, even if Plaintiff’s communications were acquired from transient storage
and thus “contemporaneously” with transmission, they were acquired by the intended
recipient of the communication, and such acquisition is not actionable under the Wiretap
806 F.3d at 143 (3d Cir. 2015). As a party to the communication, Defendant is exempt
from liability under the Wiretap Act.4
b. Alternative Allegations
To avoid the party exception, Plaintiff attempts to plead that the intended recipient
of her “electronic communications” was the DOM on her own computer. In addition to
contradicting the allegations discussed above, the Court agrees with Defendant that
Plaintiff’s interactions with her own computer were not “communications” at all.5 See
Google, 806 F.3d at 143 (“Tautologically, a communication will always consist of at least
two parties: the speaker and/or sender, and at least one intended recipient.”).
And if they were communications, then, according to Plaintiff’s own allegations,
they were made within the confines of Plaintiff’s own computer “before transmission
over the Internet.” ECF No. 22 ¶ 39. As such, they were not “electronic
communications” transmitted by a system that affects interstate commerce, as required
under the Wiretap Act. See, e.g., United States v. Barrington, 648 F.3d 1178, 1202 (11th
Cir. 2011) (“[U]se of a keylogger will not violate the Wiretap Act if the signal or
The party exception does not apply where the party intercepted a communication
“for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act” in violation of federal or
state law, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(d), which is “independent of the intentional act of
recording,” Google, 806 F.3d at 145 (citing Caro v. Weintraub, 618 F.3d 94, 100-101 (2d
Cir. 2010)). But Plaintiff has neither alleged nor argued that Defendant intercepted or
disclosed her communications for the purpose of committing a crime or a tort
independent of the interception itself, and no such purpose is evident from the complaint.
Plaintiff seems to acknowledge this, alleging at one point that “[w]hile Plaintiff
entered her Credit Card Details on Defendant’s Page, as described above, it was not her
intent to communicate with Defendant or any other party.” ECF No. 22 ¶ 18 (emphasis
information captured from the keystrokes is not at that time being transmitted beyond the
computer on which the keylogger is installed.”); United States v. Ropp, 347 F. Supp. 2d
831, 837-38 (C.D. Cal. 2004) (holding that “[t]he acquisition of internal computer signals
that constitute part of the process of preparing a message for transmission” are not
“electronic communications” because they are “not transmitted by a system that affects
interstate . . . commerce,” notwithstanding that the computer has a network connection to
the Internet) (emphasis removed). Thus, Plaintiff’s Wiretap Act claims must be
dismissed in any event.
c. Statute of Limitations
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s Wiretap Act claims fail on the merits.
The Court also concludes that they are time-barred, as Plaintiff filed suit more than two
years after the date upon which she first had a reasonable opportunity to discover the
violation. See 18 U.S.C. § 2520(e). “[T]he ‘violation’ that is referenced in the statute is
the interception of the communication, not the injury caused by the interception, [and] the
[p]laintiff only need to be on inquiry notice of the violation to commence the statute of
limitations period.” In re Trilegiant Corp., Inc., 11 F. Supp. 3d 82, 111 (D. Conn. 2014).
computer code for Defendant’s payment page, and Plaintiff had reasonable opportunity to
discover this violation when she first accessed this payment page on March 29, 2014,
more than two years before filing suit. Plaintiff cites articles dating back to 2011 for the
computer code, or that the scripts were undiscoverable.6 Indeed, Plaintiff alleges that her
attorney was able to discover the scripts, and nothing in the complaint suggests the
attorney (or anyone else) was prevented from discovering them sooner.
Although Plaintiff claims she did not have the technical knowledge to identify the
computer code on her own, her lack of technical expertise is not a reason to toll the
statute of limitations here. See, e.g., Thompson v. Ret. Plan for Emps. of S.C. Johnson &
Sons, Inc., 716 F. Supp. 2d 752, 772 (E.D. Wis. 2010) (rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument
that they could not “discover” their ERISA injury from the highly technical plan
documents, and reasoning that such an argument would “suggest that any plaintiff
whose claim involves complicated and technical information may sidestep the statute of
limitations until he understands that information”), aff’d, 651 F.3d 600 (7th Cir. 2011).
Unjust Enrichment (Count III)
Putting aside the question of whether Plaintiff has standing to assert an unjust
enrichment claim, the Court finds that she fails to state such a claim. Under Missouri
law, “[u]njust enrichment requires a showing that: (1) the plaintiff conferred a benefit on
the defendant; (2) the defendant appreciated the benefit; and (3) the defendant accepted
and retained the benefit under inequitable and/or unjust circumstances.” Hargis v. JLB
Corp., 357 S.W.3d 574, 586 (Mo. 2011) (citations omitted). “The third element . . . is
considered the most significant and the most difficult of the elements,” and “there can be
Tellingly, as Defendant notes, Plaintiff defines the proposed “Wiretap Act Class”
as individuals who purchased merchandise on Defendant’s website within “two years
preceding the date of filing of the Original Petition,” which would exclude Plaintiff.
no unjust enrichment if the parties receive what they intended to obtain.” Sparks v. PNC
Bank, 400 S.W.3d 454, 460 (Mo. Ct. App. 2013).
Plaintiff claims that the unjust enrichment here is the money she paid to Defendant
for merchandise, which she received in full, because part of that money should have gone
to pay for better data security measures. But Plaintiff does not allege any facts giving
rise to a reasonable inference that any specific portion of the money she paid was
intended or required to be spent on data protection. As such, Plaintiff has failed to state a
claim that she conferred a benefit on Defendant the retention of which would be
inequitable. See Carlsen v. GameStop, Inc., 833 F.3d 903, 912 (8th Cir. 2016)
(dismissing an unjust enrichment claim based on allegations that the plaintiff paid a
subscriber fee to a website operator who subsequently disclosed personal information to
third parties, where the plaintiff did not “allege that any specific portion of his subscriber
fee went toward data protection or that [the defendant] agreed to provide additional
protection to paid subscribers that it did not also provide to non-paid subscribers”); In re
Sci. Applications Int’l Corp. (SAIC) Backup Tape Data Theft Litig., 45 F. Supp. 3d 14, 30
(D.D.C. 2014) (dismissing an unjust enrichment claim which alleged that health
insurance premiums should have gone toward better security measures on the grounds
that the plaintiffs “d[id] not claim that they were denied [health insurance] coverage or
services in any way whatsoever,” the plaintiffs’ allegation “that some indeterminate part
of their premiums went toward paying for security measures” was “flimsy,” and the
plaintiffs did “not maintain . . . that the money they paid could have or would have
bought a better policy with a more bullet-proof information-security regime”).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint
with prejudice is GRANTED. ECF No. 24.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all other pending motions are DENIED as
A separate judgment shall accompany this Memorandum and Order.
AUDREY G. FLEISSIG
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 13th day of November, 2017.
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