Rajaee v. Design Tech Homes, Ltd et al

Filing 42

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER. It is ORDERED that Defendants Design Tech Homes, Ltd. and Design Tech Homes of Texas, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 25 ) is GRANTED IN PART, and Plaintiff Saman Rajaee's claims for violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff Saman Rajaee's remaining state law claims for misappropriation of confidential information, violation of the Texas Theft Liability Act, negligence, and conversion are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. (Signed by Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr) Parties notified.(gkelner, 4)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION SAMAN RAJAEE, § § § § § § § Plaintiff, v. CIVIL ACTION NO. H-13-2517 DESIGN TECH HOMES, LTD and DESIGN TECH HOMES OF TEXAS, LLC,§ § § Defendants. MEMORANDUM AND ORDER Pending is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 25). After carefully considering the motion, response, reply, and applicable law, the Court concludes as follows. I. Background Plaintiff Saman Rajaee ("Plaintiff") is a Houston resident who has worked in the residential home construction industry for over twelve years, process. 1 collecting numerous business contacts in the In January 2012, Defendants Design Tech Homes, Ltd. and Design Tech Homes of Texas, LLC (collectively, "Defendants") hired Plaintiff to provide sales and marketing for them. 2 Plaintiff's position required him to have constant access to email to be able 1 Document No. 39, ex. C 2 I d., ex. C ~ :3. ~ 2 (Pl.'s Decl.). to "answer customer requirements and be available as needed. ,,3 Defendants did not provide Plaintiff with a cell phone or smart device. 4 Plaintiff instead used his personal smart device, an Apple iPhone 4 (the "iPhone"), to conduct his work for Defendants. 5 Plaintiff's iPhone was connected to Defendants' Microsoft Exchange Server, allowing Plaintiff remotely to access the email, contact manager, and calendar provided by Defendants. 6 On or about February 2, 2013, Plaintiff notified Defendants that he would be resigning in two weeks, and Defendants immediately terminated Plaintiff. 7 Administrator, Alvaro 3 Id., ex. C ~ Id., ex. C ~ Sandoval later, Defendants' ("Sandoval") , remotely Network wiped :i. 5 days 4. 4 A few Id., ex. C ~ 7. 6 Id. The parties dispute the origin of this connection. Plaintiff testifies that Defendants "encouraged [their] employees, such as me, to use their own personal smart device," that he did not have the technical knowledge to connect his smart phone device to a Microsoft Exchange Server, and that "someone acting on behalf of [Defendants]" connected Plaintiff's iPhone to Defendants' server. Id., ex. C ~~ 5, 7. Defendants state that Plaintiff connected his iPhone without authorization, citing the declaration testimony of their Network Administrator , Alvaro Sandoval, who asserted that he himself did not connect the iPhone and was not aware of the connection until the day of Plaintiff's resignation. See Document No. 25 at 2-3; Document No. 26-1 at 2 of 109. 7 Document No. 39, ex. C ~ 8. 2 Plaintiff's iPhone, restoring it to factory settings and deleting all the data--both personal and work-related--on the iPhone. 8 Plaintiff sued Defendants, alleging that their actions caused him to lose "more than 600 business contacts collected during the course of his career, family contacts (many of which are located overseas and some are related to family business), family photos, business records, irreplaceable business and personal photos and videos and numerous passwords.,,9 Plaintiff alleges violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse violation Act, of conversion. 10 the misappropriation Texas Theft of confidential Liability Act, information, negligence, and Defendants move for summary judgment. 11 II. Legal Standard Rule 56 (a) provides that ,,[t] he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." this burden, the R. FED. Crv. 56 (a) . burden shifts Once the movant carries to P. nonmovant the to show that 8 Id., ex. A at 43:2-44:6, 49:7-14; id., ex. C ~ 9; id., ex. 9 Document No. 9 D. ~ 10 Document No.9. 11 16 (2d Am. Compl.). Document No. 25. 3 summary judgment should not be granted. Morris v. Covan World Wide Moving, Inc., 144 F.3d 377, 380 (5th Cir. 1998). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in a pleading, and unsubstantiated assertions that a fact issue exists will not suffice. Id. "[T]he nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing the existence of a case. 'genuine' /I Id. issue concerning every essential component of its "A pa.rty asserting that a fact cannot be or genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to or (B) particular parts of materials in the record . is showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact./1 FED. R. Cry. P. 56(c) (1). "The court need consider only the cited materials, consider other materials in the record./1 but it may Id. 56(c) (3). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must view the evidence "through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden./1 2505, 2513 (1986). Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 106 S. Ct. All justifiable inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Corp., 106 S. Ct. Ma tsushi ta Elec. 1348, 1356 (1986) Indus. Co. v. Zeni th Radio "If the record, viewed in this light, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find/l for the nonmovant, then summary judgment is proper. 4 Kelley v. Price- Macemon, Inc., 992 F.2d 1408, 1413 (5th Cir. 1993). On the other hand, if "the factfinder could reasonably find in [the nonmovant' s] favor I then summary judgment is standards of Rule 56 are met, improper." Even if the a court has discretion to deny a motion for summary judgment if it believes that "the better course would be to proceed to a full trial." Anderson, 106 S. Ct. at 2513. III. Analysis 1. Violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Plaintiff alleges that "Defendants accessed Plaintiff's smart device without and authorization willfully destroyed the Plaintiff's communications stored on his smart device in violation of 18 USC §2701(a) (1) " 12 Stored Communications Act, Title 18 U.S.C. 2701 is part of the which Congress passed as part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act ("ECPA") to protect potential intrusions on Amendment. See Garcia v. City of Laredo, Tex., 702 F.3d 788, 791 (5th Cir. 2012). individual privacy not addressed by the Fourth Section 2701(a) (1) provides that whoever "inten- tionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided and thereby 12 Document No. 9 ~ 20. In his Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff waives this claim by failing to defend it. See Document No. 39. 5 obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system shall be punished as provided in subsection section. 18 U.S.C. 1I § 2701(a) (1). (b) of this Assuming that a cell phone could be considered a "facilityll under the Stored Communications Act, the Fifth individual Circuit stores has to his held that hard drive electronic storage under the statute. or 1I "information cell phone Garcia, that an not in is 702 F.3d at 793. Accordingly, Plaintiff's personal data that he stored on his iPhone is not protected by Section 2701, and his ECPA claim is dismissed. 2. Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Plaintiff computer and alleges caused that the loss "Defendants of accessed Plaintiff's economic damages valued at more than $5,000," Plaintiff's records causing in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAAII), 18 U.S.C. § 1030.13 Although the CFAA is a criminal statute, Section 1030(g) provides a private right of action "for [a]ny person who suffers damage or loss by reason of a violation of this section. 1I 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g); Fiber Sys. Int'l, Inc. v. Roehrs, 470 F.3d 1150, 1156 (5th Cir. 2006). "A civil action for a violation of this section may be brought only if the conduct involves subsection (c) (4) (A) 13 1 of (i).11 Document No. 9 ~ the 18 U.S.C. 24. 6 factors § set 1030 (g). forth in The only factor that is potentially relevant in this case is "loss to 1 or more persons during any 1--year period in value." 1d. § aggregating at least $5,000 1030(c) (4) (A) (i) (I) .14 Defendants argue that Plaintiff's CFAA claim fails as a matter of law because Plaintiff has produced no evidence of any loss cognizable under the CFAA that aggregates to at least $5,000. 15 Plaintiff responds that "[t]he present case relates to intentional deletion of data and documents and [Plaintiff] has sufficiently pled facts supporting a CFAA interruption of service and loss. [have Defendants] $5, 000. proven that [Plaintiff's] Nor losses are less than ,,16 Because Plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of proving loss at trial, Defendants may move for summary judgment "by 'showing' --that is, pointing out to the district court--that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Catrett, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2554 (1986). Defendants are not required to produce evidence negating Plaintiff's claim. Defendants have argued that Celotex Corp. v. Plaintiff has 1d. at 2553. Once no evidence of loss 14 The statute's other factors that may give rise to a civil cause of action involve medical records, physical injury, threats to public health or safety, and damage affecting United States Government computers used in furtherance of the administration of justice, national defense, or national security. See 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (c) (4) (A) (i) . 15 Document No. 25 at 13-15; Document No. 40 at 4-5. 16 Document No. 39 at 17 (emphasis in original). 7 within the meaning of the statute, it is Plaintiff's burden to produce evidence--not merely to rely on his pleadings--in order to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. See id. at 2552 ("[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."); Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1170 (7th Cir. 2013) (on summary defendants judgment motion pointed out the [plaintiff's] involving gap that CFAA claim, they believed "once the existed in case, he was obliged to point to evidence that, if believed by the trier of fact, would be sufficient to show that his loss did in fact exceed $5,000"). Although Plaintiff does not argue that he has produced evidence of statutory loss, he does cite--albeit in a footnote and without explanation--to paragraph 11 of his Declaration, in which he describes the losses he suffered as a result of Defendants' deletion of his personal data. 17 (1) Plaintiff testifies that he lost: pictures of his personal home rehabilitation project, decreased the value of the remodel by at least which $50,000; (2) pictures and video of family, friends, and his dogs, which he values at $3,500; 17 See id. (3) all cell phone contacts after 2009, which he at 17 n.90; Document No. 39, ex. C ~ 11. 8 values at over $50,000 based on his diminished employability; (4) all of Plaintiff's text messages, which he values at $1,000; and (5) all of his notes and email accounts, which he values at $600. 18 Defendants reply that none of these qualify as "loss" under the CFAA.19 The CFAA defines "loss" as "any reasonable cost to any victim, including the cost of responding to an offense, conducting a damage assessment, and restoring the data, program, system, or information to its condition prior to the offense, and any revenue lost, cost incurred, or other consequential because of interruption of service." Id. § damages 1030 (e) (11). incurred "The term 'loss' encompasses only two types of harm: costs to investigate and respond to an offense, interruption." and costs incurred because of a service Alliantgroup, 610, 630 (S.D. Tex. 2011) Ltd. (BVI) v. Godlevsky, L.P. v. Feingold, (Rosenthal, J.) 719 F. Supp. 803 F. 2d 766, 776-77 (Ellison, J.); Nexans Wires S.A. v. Sark-USA, Supp. 2d 468, 562-63 (2d Cir. 2006) (S.D.N.Y. 2004), 2d (citing Quantlab Techs. 2010) 472-78 Supp. (S.D. Tex. Inc., 319 F. aff'd 166 F. App'x. 559, (holding $10 million in lost profits caused by misappropriation of confidential data was not recoverable under the CFAA, which permits recovery of lost revenue only when connected to an "interruption of service.")); see also Resdev, LLC 18 Document No. 39, ex. C 19 ~ 11. Document No. 40 at 4-5. 9 v. Lot Builders Ass'n, Inc., 6:04-CV-13740RL31DAB, 2005 WL 1924743, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 10, 2005) listing potential injuries ("By use of the term 'cost' and its directly associated with, or with addressing, an unauthorized-computer-access event, the CFAA plainly enumerates a narrow grouping of 'loss' distinct from- -and thus excluding--the far greater range of losses that could flow from a violation of the CFAA.."). Plaintiff has not produced evidence of any costs he incurred to investigate or respond to the deletion of his data, nor do the losses and damages for which he does produce evidence arise from an "interruption of service." See M-I LLC v. Stelly, (Ellison, J.) 759, 780 (S.D. Tex. 2010) 733 F. Supp. 2d ("case law has consistently interpreted the loss provision to encompass only the costs incurred as a result of investigating or remedying damage to a computer, or costs incurred because the computer's service was interrupted"); Alliantgroup, 803 F. Supp. 2d at 630 (granting summary judgment on CFAA claim where plaintiff services as a result of "does not allege an interruption of [defendant's] actions, or any costs incurred to investigate and respond to an interruptions or any service interruption"); Clinton Plumbing & Heating of Trenton, Inc. v. Ciaccio, CIV. 09-2751, 2010 WL 4224473, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 22, 2010) ("Various courts have interpreted 'loss' to mean the remedial costs of done, and investigating a costs incurred computer for damage, while 10 the computer remedying damage is inoperable. ") (citations omitted); Nexans Wires, 319 F. Supp. 2d at 477, aff'd, 166 F. App'x 559 ("Therefore, if [plaintiffs] had lost revenue because the computer systems . . . were down, that would seem to be the type of lost revenue contemplated by the statute."); see also Frees, Inc. v. McMillian, CIV.A. 05-1979, 2007 WL 2264457, at *2 (W.D. La. Aug. 6, 2007) from plaintiff's (although defendants allegedly deleted data computer, interruption of service"). plaintiff "did not suffer an Accordingly, Plaintiff has not offered evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact that he sustained $5,000 in cognizable "loss" under the CFAA, and Plaintiff's CFAA claim is dismissed. 3. Supplemental Jurisdiction This Court's original jurisdiction is based solely on federal question jurisdiction. misappropriation of Plaintiff's remaining causes of action--for confidential information, violation of the Texas Theft Liability Act, negligence, and conversion--all arise under and allege serious issues of Texas law. Court in its discretion declines to Accordingly, exercise jurisdiction over these remaining state law claims. § 1367 (c) ("The district courts supplemental jurisdiction . . . if . may decline the supplemental See 28 U.S.C. to exercise (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction."); Enochs v. Lampasas Cnty., 641 F.3d 155, 161 (5th Cir. 2011) 11 ("Our general rule is to dismiss state claims when the federal claims to which they are pendent are dismissed.") . IV. Order For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that Defendants Design Tech Homes, Ltd. Tech Homes of Texas, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment and Design (Document No. 25) is GRANTED IN PART, and Plaintiff Saman Rajaee's claims for violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff Saman Rajaee's remaining state law claims for misappropriation of confidential information, violation of the Texas Theft Liability Act, negligence, and conversion are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Plaintiff is reminded that the period of limitations to file their state claims in state court is tolled for a period of thirty (30) days after the claims are dismissed unless state law provides for a longer tolling period. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d). The Clerk shall notify all parties and provide them with a signed copy of this Order. SIGNED at Houston, Texas, on this 12 1l ~ of day November, 2014.

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