Hoang v. Amazon.com, Inc.

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

10/13/2011

Status: 

Pending

Location: 

Washington

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
Junie Hoang, the stage name of Asian actress Huong Huang, filed an anonymous "Jane Doe" complaint in the Western District of Washington against the Internet Movie Database website, IMDb.com, and its parent company, Amazon.com, on October 13, 2011. Hoang, who... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Amazon.com, Inc., IMDb.com, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Large Organization

Location of Party: 

  • Texas

Location of Party: 

  • Washington

Legal Counsel: 

Ashley A. Locke, Breena Michelle Roos, Charles Christian Sipos, Elizabeth L. McDougall-Tural
Description

Junie Hoang, the stage name of Asian actress Huong Huang, filed an anonymous "Jane Doe" complaint in the Western District of Washington against the Internet Movie Database website, IMDb.com, and its parent company, Amazon.com, on October 13, 2011.

Hoang, who lives in Texas, has been a user of IMDb.com since 2003 and a subscriber to IMDbPro since 2008. She was using the services to help her connect with casting directors and to obtain acting roles. She did not put her age in her profile, but alleges that IMDb.com included it at a later point in time. She alleges that IMDb.com "took the personal information she provided during the subscription process [from her credit card] and added it to her online profile without her authorization." She also alleges that IMDb.com "scour[ed] public records" to discover her date of birth. She asked for her birthdate to be taken down, but IMDb.com has refused.

Hoang alleges that revealing her true name and age on IMDb.com has harmed her career because "in the entertainment industry, youth is king." Hoang was 40 years old at the time of filing. In addition, she alleges a "double-whammy effect" because she cannot get "forty-year-old roles" because she looks younger than she is and cannot portray the role of a forty-year-old woman.

In her complaint, Hoang alleges four causes of action:

  1. Breach of contract (of IMDbPro's Subscriber Agreement and incorporated Privacy Policy);  
  2. Fraud;
  3. Violation of Washington Privacy Act, RCW 9.73.030; and
  4. Violation of Washington Consumer Protection Act, RCW 19.86.

She included Amazon.com in her complaint because she alleges that the company "aided and abetted IMDb's wrongful conduct," and was aware of IMDb's procedures of cross-referencing credit card information with public records to gather as much information as possible about each subscriber. She sought an injunction to remove her personal information from IMDb, as well as $75,000 in comensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages, and an award of costs and fees.

On November 9, 2011, defendants responded with two Motions to Dismiss: one pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), failure to state a claim; and another pursuant to Rule 10(a), arguing that "Jane Doe" should not be able to proceed anyonymously. On the Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Amazon and IMDb argued that the display of the birthdate was "an accurate fact," and that Doe's claims about IMDb's practices were "pure speculation." The defendants also noted that even if Doe's claims were true, "plaintiff consented to such use of information when she subscribed to the IMDbPro service." 

On November 28, 2011, plaintiff filed oppositions to defendant's Rule 12 (b)(6) motion and Rule 10(a) motion, and simultaneously filed a cross-motion to proceed anonymously due to the "unique circumstances" in the case. Plaintiff argued that she should be allowed to proceed anonymously because disclosure of her identity would subject her to "severe retaliation, harassment and ridicule," including retaliation by defendants, who she claims "have a reputation of striking back at consumers who complain about their unauthorized publication of personal information." 

Defendants filed replies in support of their motions on December 2, 2011. They argued in regards to the 12(b)(6) motion that the plaintiff had failed to meet her burden of specific factual allegations sufficent to state a claim, and that each of her causes of action fail independently. In their reply pursuant to the 10(a) motion, defendants argued that plaintiff's arguments did not justify anonymity in this case, while also denying that they had ever "retaliated against [p]laintiff (or anyone else) for complaining regarding its practices." Amazon also claimed that "embarrassment does not meet the strict standards for anonymity." 

On December 23, 2011, the Washington district court judge in Seattle granted the defendant's motion to dismiss on Rule 10(a) grounds.  The court said "the injury [plaintiff] fears is not severe enough to justify permitting her to proceed anonymously. " The judge granted leave to "Jane Doe" to amend her complaint by adding her real name within 14 days of the order. 

On January 6, 2012, "Jane Doe" filed an amended complaint using her real name, Huong Huang.

On March 30, 2012, a federal district court judge ruled on the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. Taking plaintiff's factual allegations as true, the court granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion.

  1. Breach of Contract. The court held that Huang's breach of contract claim was sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss stage. Plaintiff alleged an existence of a contractual duty and a breach of that duty. The court said the "plain language of the contract does not permit defendants unfettered use of the personal information that Plaintiff provided for the purposes of processing payment."
  2. Fraud. In regards to the fraud claim, the court held that Huang's claim failed because it did not meet the high standard of specificity requirements of Rule 9(b). This claim was dismissed with leave to amend with "the requisite standard of particularity."
  3. Washington's Privacy Act. Plaintiff's privacy claim also failed because it misapplied the Washington statute. The information was not "private" and was not "intercepted" or "recorded" by defendants, as required by the statute.  This claim was dismissed with prejudice.
  4. Washington's Consumer Protection Act. The Consumer Protection Act claim was also allowed to survive at the motion to dismiss stage. The court found that "defendants' alleged practices" could affect millions of people if plaintiff's allegations of IMDb.com's unfair and deceptive practices are true. 

On April 25, 2012, Huang filed a Second Amended Complaint (SAC), addressing the specificity in her fraud claim. In her SAC, Huang argues that defendants were engaged in data-mining, and that they "materially misrepresent...the safety, security and purposes for which they gather and use the personal and credit card information of consumers who subscribe to IMDbPro." She claims she would not have shared her credit card information if she knew the defendants would use "such information for other purposes." (The plaintiff and defendants disagree as to which documents represent the operative agreements in this matter.) Huang also adds a new claim about Amazon.com. She alleges that she purchased products from Amazon.com prior to subscribing to IMDbPro and  that "Amazon.com misrepresented in the Privacy agreement available on its website the terms on which Amazon.com would share her user information with IMDb.com."

After Huang filed her second amended complaint, defendants filed another Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 9(b) on May 9, 2012. In it, defendants argue that plaintiff's new claim about Amazon.com's Privacy Notice is a "thinly veiled attempt to keep Amazon.com in this lawsuit." Defendants also argue that plaintiff's SAC "comingles" defendants and fails to distinguish between Amazon.com and IMDb.com, as required for a state claim for fraud. They claim that plaintiff still does not specify "which statements are false, which statements IMDB.com knew were false and intended plaintiff to rely on, and which statements she had a right to rely on."  

Huang filed an opposition to the Motion on May 21, 2012, and defendants replied to the opposition on May 25, 2012.

On June 1, 2012, Huang filed a Motion for Relief from Trial Deadlines and to Continue Trial Dealines alleging defendants did not file substantial answers to her complaint and/or raise substantial defenses. The plaintiff also claims both parties have been "embroiled" in discovery disputes because Amazon claims to be exempt from full discovery. Defendants filed an Opposition to that motion on June 13, 2012, alleging that plaintiff was delaying her own responses to discovery and had failed to respond to efforts to negotiate a "mutally acceptable protective order." On June 15, 2012, Huang filed a Reply in support of her Motion for Relief from Trial Deadlines and to Continue Trial Date.  

The plaintiff and defendants asked the Court to enter a Stipulated Protective Order regarding discovery on June 28, 2012. 

 

Details

Content Type: 

  • Photo
  • Text
  • Graphic

Publication Medium: 

Website

Subject Area: 

  • Privacy
  • Free Speech
  • Anonymity
  • Publication of Private Facts
  • Advertising
Court Information & Documents