April 18 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell Plc has won a U.S.
appeals court's dismissal of a $1 billion lawsuit over the
contents of its credit card receipts, in a decision questioning
why anyone should care how the oil company acted.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said
Shell's printing of four digits from customer account numbers on
receipts complied with the federal Fair and Accurate Credit
Transactions Act, which allows the printing of as many as the
last five digits of a "card number."
While not arguing that Shell put them at greater risk of
identity theft, plaintiffs in the class-action case claimed that
Shell was printing the wrong digits and that its practice could
be deemed unreasonable in light of industry practices.
Because each willful violation of the law could result in
damages of $100 or more, penalties could add up fast.
A federal judge in Chicago let the case proceed, but the 7th
Circuit reversed that decision and declared Shell the victor.
Writing for a three-judge 7th Circuit panel, Chief Judge
Frank Easterbrook said the law did not say which digits could
appear on card receipts, only that there be no more than five.
"We need not essay a definition of 'card number' as an
original matter, because we can't see why anyone should care how
the term is defined," he wrote, italicizing the word "care" for
emphasis. "A precise definition does not matter as long as the
receipt contains too few digits to allow identity theft."
He also said "an award of $100 to everyone who has used a
Shell card at a Shell station would exceed $1 billion, despite
the absence of a penny's worth of injury."
Martin Oberman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his
clients are considering all options.
"We certainly strongly disagree with the decision," he said.
"The district court had it exactly right. The statute is
unequivocal that you can only print the last five numbers on a
card, and Shell printed the middle four."
Easterbrook said Shell now prints zero digits on receipts.
The case is van Straaten v. Shell Oil Products Co et al, 7th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 11-8031.
For Straaten: Martin J. Oberman
For Shell Oil Products: Mark Bernstein of Barack Ferrazzano
Kirschbaum & Nagelberg
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel)
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