Equifax’s headquarters in Atlanta. (John Disney/ ALM)
A law firm that has filed more than 20 prospective class actions against Equifax over its massive data breach, including one filed Tuesday in Connecticut, wants the cases consolidated in California.
Attorney Kevin Sharp, a former federal judge now a partner with Sanford Heisler Sharp in Nashville, Tennessee, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Wednesday he’ll ask to consolidate the cases and have them heard in the northern or southern districts of California. Sharp said having judges who are experts in data breach cases would benefit both sides.
“Most of the plaintiffs that have signed up for this are from California. The [Multi-District Litigation] Panel will look at where most of the witnesses are from and where the judges have the expertise,” said Sharp. “Judges in California understand data breach issues. They are currently hearing the Anthem data breach case that affected tens of millions of people.”
Sharp said the MDL panel of seven circuit and district judges will meet in St. Louis on Nov. 30. Sharp said there’s no doubt the judges will vote to consolidate, but it’s unclear where the MDL will go.
Sharp said the judges consider factors such as the location of witnesses, which judges have the expertise in the area and which judges have the resources and time to handle such cases
While Equifax is based in Atlanta, Sharp said there is no guarantee the case will be heard in Georgia.
Equifax’s outside counsel at King & Spalding have suggested that U.S. District Judge William Duffey Jr. in Atlanta be assigned to handle the litigation. Duffey has strong ties to King & Spalding, having been a partner there from 1981 to 2001.
Sharp said he has no problem with Duffey hearing the case. “He is just trying to follow the law the best way he can,” said Sharp, who served as chief judge of the federal district court for the Middle District of Tennessee from 2011 to April.
Sharp and his firm, along with J. Craig Smith of Bridgeport’s Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder, are representing Ansonia resident Mary Zribi in the suit filed Tuesday in Connecticut. The suit states Equifax failed to inform consumers of the date breach until Sept. 7, at which time more than 145 million customers had their financial and personal information compromised.
“While defendants took no steps at that time to inform the public in the interim, defendants did not hesitate to protect themselves,” according to the lawsuit, which noted that Equifax Chief Financial Officer John Gamble “sold shares worth $1.8 million in the days following the data breach.”
Sharp said the plaintiffs are seeking “hundreds of millions of dollars” against the credit-reporting giant.
The lawsuit cites five counts: willful violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, negligent violation of the FCRA, violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, negligence, and negligence per se.
Sharp said he believes the first class action filed in Connecticut against Equifax last week could be problematic because the plaintiff is a litigation paralegal represented by her own firm.
“The plaintiff would have divided loyalties between herself and her obligation to class members and her obligation to the law firm,” Sharp said.
Natalie Quagliani, the plaintiff in the first Connecticut class action, works for Withers Bergman in Old Greenwich. She is represented by partners Steven Moore and James Nealon.
In response to Sharp, Moore said Thursday: “We respectfully disagree. She is not involved in the case, other than being the plaintiff.” He did not elaborate.
No one from Equifax was available for comment.