A federal judicial panel has ordered that 30 class actions brought against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica be coordinated into multidistrict litigation before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation’s order on Wednesday came as little surprise, since Facebook and several of the plaintiffs had supported the move to the Northern District of California—although Facebook’s lawyers had requested U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, a 2011 appointee of President Barack Obama. Chhabria, also an Obama appointee, became a federal judge in 2014.
Chhabria also was “presiding over almost half the pending actions,” wrote MDL Panel Chairwoman Sarah Vance.
In a footnote, the panel said it would consider “in due course” whether related shareholder cases should be included.
Facebook has acknowledged that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm whose parent firm has since gone bankrupt, accessed data from millions of its users as part of a software application called “thisisyourdigitallife.” Questions have surfaced over the use of such data during the 2016 election, given that Steve Bannon, who was campaign manager and later a top White House strategist for President Donald Trump, backed Cambridge Analytica.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Christopher Wylie, a former Cambridge Analytica research director-turned-whistleblower, have testified on Capitol Hill. Zuckerberg also has testified in European Parliament in Brussels, while Wylie has provided testimony to a committee of the British Parliament.
On Wednesday, former Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix acknowledged in testimony before a Parliament media committee that his firm received data from the researcher at the heart of the scandal.
Facebook, represented by Orin Snyder of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in New York, has been defensive in court, stating that the lawsuits “are misguided: Facebook broke no laws and violated on legal duties.”
In a separate order on Wednesday, the MDL panel also sent 48 patent infringement cases involving cloud computing to the Northern District of California. PersonalWeb Technologies, a nonpracticing entity, along with Level 3 Communications, the owner of five patents, sought to coordinate the cases against Amazon cloud computing customers, such as Airbnb and Kickstarter. The online defendants, however, had asked to stay the request pending a decision in Amazon’s declaratory judgment action against PersonalWeb in the Northern District of California.
The panel instead sent the cases to U.S. District Judge Beth Freeman, who is overseeing Amazon’s case and most of the other lawsuits.
“In other circumstances, stays pursuant to the customer suit exception may be an appropriate alternative to centralization, but we are not persuaded that centralization should be denied on that basis here,” Vance wrote.