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Nyman v. Thomson Reuters Holdings, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Michigan

September 3, 2019

ADAM NYMAN and SARA NYMAN, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
THOMSON REUTERS HOLDINGS, INC., doing business as WESTLAW, Defendant-Appellee.

          Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 17-012847-CB

          Before: K. F. Kelly, P.J., and Tukel and Redford, JJ.

          REDFORD, J.

         In this putative class action primarily alleging violations of the Social Security Number Privacy Act (SSNPA), MCL 445.81 et seq., plaintiffs[1] appeal as of right the trial court's order dismissing their complaint without prejudice. We affirm.


         Plaintiffs allege in their complaint they discovered defendant listed the first five digits of their social security numbers on the "public records portal" of a webpage owned by defendant available only to subscribers. Plaintiffs, believing such actions by defendant violated the SSNPA, submitted a written demand letter to defendant, requesting removal of the information and payment of $5, 000. Plaintiffs did not allege any actual damages or harm in the letter but requested $5, 000 under MCL 445.86(2) because it permitted collection of $1, 000 per plaintiff in statutory damages and reasonable attorney fees, which plaintiffs calculated at $3, 000. Defendant eventually denied any violation of the SSNPA and refused to pay the requested damages. Plaintiffs responded with this litigation in which they alleged violations of the SSNPA, invasion of privacy, and ordinary negligence.

         In lieu of answering the complaint, defendant moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8). Defendant argued that plaintiffs failed to plead actual damages and failed to comport with the presuit written demand procedure under MCL 445.86(2), which required a description and proof of the actual damages suffered. Defendant argued further that plaintiffs could not establish that defendant publicly displayed five digits of their social security numbers as defined under MCL 445.82(d). Defendant also made other arguments not relevant in this appeal regarding plaintiffs' alleged failures to plead a claim under the SSNPA. Respecting plaintiffs' alleged torts, defendant argued that those claims required plaintiffs to have pleaded some actual present injury to survive summary disposition, which plaintiffs did not do. Defendant also raised an array of other arguments regarding plaintiffs' tort claims that are not relevant to this appeal.

         Plaintiffs countered that the SSNPA allowed them to elect statutory damages of $1, 000 as an alternative to pleading and proving actual damages. Plaintiffs also asserted that they generally plead injuries related to their tort claims sufficient to survive summary disposition under the MCR 2.116(C)(8) standard. The trial court agreed with defendant that plaintiffs failed to properly plead as required by the SSNPA and opined that defendant had not publicly displayed the first five digits of their social security numbers. The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary disposition and dismissed plaintiffs' complaint without prejudice. This appeal followed. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


         We review de novo a circuit court's summary disposition decision. Dalley v Dykema Gossett, 287 Mich.App. 296, 304; 788 N.W.2d 679 (2010). "A court may grant summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) if the opposing party has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted." Id. (quotation marks and brackets omitted). "A motion brought under subrule (C)(8) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint solely on the basis of the pleadings." Id. (citation omitted). All well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true and construed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at 304-305. "Summary disposition on the basis of subrule (C)(8) should be granted only when the claim is so clearly unenforceable as a matter of law that no factual development could possibly justify a right of recovery." Id. at 305 (quotation marks omitted). "Questions of statutory interpretation are also reviewed de novo." Rowland v Washtenaw Co Road Comm, 477 Mich. 197, 202; 731 N.W.2d 41 (2007).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. SSNPA CLAIM

         Plaintiffs first argue that the trial court erroneously interpreted the SSNPA to require proof of actual damages. We disagree.

         This issue requires us to engage in statutory interpretation. "When construing a statute, this Court's primary goal is to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. We begin by construing the language of the statute itself. When the language is unambiguous, we give the words their plain meaning and apply the statute as written." Id. (citation omitted). We must examine the statute as a whole, reading individual words and phrases in the context of the entire legislative scheme." Ally Fin Inc v State Treasurer, 502 Mich. 484, 493; 918 N.W.2d 662 (2018) (quotation marks omitted). "In doing so, we consider the entire text, in view of its structure and of the physical and logical relation of its many parts." Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). Proper statutory interpretation requires: (1) reading the statute as a whole, (2) reading its words and phrases in the context of the entire legislative scheme, (3) while considering both the plain meaning of the critical words and phrases along with their placement and purpose within the statutory scheme, and (4) interpreting the statutory provisions in harmony with the entire statutory scheme. Bush v Shabahang, 484 Mich. 156, 167; 772 N.W.2d 272 (2009). "If the language is clear and unambiguous, the plain meaning of the statute reflects the legislative intent and judicial construction is not permitted." Deruiter v Byron Twp, 325 Mich.App. 275, 283; 926 N.W.2d 268 (2018) ...

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