T-Mobile, customers diverge on forum to transfer data breach suits

A T-Mobile logo is seen on the storefront door of a store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
  • T-Mobile cites lack of active judges in Washington district court
  • Nearly 30 lawsuits filed in federal courts over cyberattack since last month

(Reuters) - T-Mobile US Inc is supporting a plaintiffs' bid to centralize in one federal district court almost 30 lawsuits filed by customers over a recent massive data breach, but suggested a different venue due to a "dire" judge shortage.

T-Mobile's filing on Tuesday came in response to the motion filed last month by plaintiffs in one lawsuit urging the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to centralize and transfer the data breach cases to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

While supporting coordination, the Bellevue, Washington-based wireless carrier said the Western District is "not well-situated to preside over this action as a result of its dire shortage of active district court judges."

The panel should instead transfer the cases to the Western District of Missouri, which is close to its second headquarters, has no vacancies and is centrally located for the nationwide dispute, T-Mobile said in its response.

The company is represented by Kristine Brown of Alston & Bird, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

There were 29 proposed class actions filed in eight federal district courts against T-Mobile over the breach as of Tuesday, the company said. Separately, the Massachusetts attorney general said on Tuesday she will investigate the cyberattack.

The breach, which T-Mobile disclosed last month, exposed names, birth dates, social security numbers, driver's license information and other data of at least 53 million current, former and prospective customers.

Plaintiffs in several other lawsuits also filed responses to the motion to transfer on Tuesday. Some agreed that the Washington district court is the appropriate venue, while others requested moving the cases to courts in New York, California, New Jersey and Oklahoma.

"We are pleased that all parties agree that the litigation is appropriate for coordination or consolidation, and are confident the Panel will transfer the cases to a judge that will move the case forward as efficiently and fairly as possible," Norman Siegel of Stueve Siegel Hanson, who represents the plaintiffs who moved for transfer, said in an email.

T-Mobile in its response supporting transfer to Missouri said the Western District of Washington has the highest judicial vacancy rate in the nation, with only two active judges and five vacancies that are considered "judicial emergencies."

"This is not a dispute that should be assigned to a court experiencing such severe resource constraints," the company said, noting that data breach litigation can take years and deal with questions of first impression.

President Joe Biden has announced nominations for several of the vacancies in the Washington district, T-Mobile added, but the timing for any confirmation is uncertain. The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm David Estudillo to serve as a judge in that district.

The case is In re: T-Mobile Customer Data Security Breach Litigation, Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MDL No. 3019.

For the movant plaintiffs: Norman Siegel of Stueve Siegel Hanson

For T-Mobile: Kristine Brown of Alston & Bird

Read More:

Massachusetts is probing huge T-Mobile data breach

T-Mobile breach hits 53 million customers as probe finds wider impact

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com