ABA fends off class action over lawyers' personal data

Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C.
Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

(Reuters) - The American Bar Association won dismissal of a proposed privacy class action on Wednesday, but a federal judge in Detroit gave the lawyer behind it another chance to make his case.

Mark Crane, a lawyer in Rochester, Michigan, claimed the ABA violated a state law that prohibits sellers of reading materials from disclosing what materials their customers receive.

Lawyers are automatically subscribed to the ABA Journal when they join the bar association, the lawsuit said, and the ABA violated the Michigan law when it sold his and other lawyers' information to third parties.

Crane claimed he received a "barrage of unwanted junk mail" after the ABA, the world's largest voluntary bar association, sold his data.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg, however, noted in Tuesday's ruling that Crane's website and his profile page on the State Bar of Michigan both advertise him as a member of the ABA, and by extension, an ABA Journal subscriber.

Crane "published to the entire world the very facts he claims the ABA revealed," Berg said.

Berg nevertheless held open the possibility that the "ABA's alleged conduct may amount to a violation" of Michigan's privacy law. Berg said Crane could amend his complaint if he can allege that the ABA "disclosed information about other books he purchased or magazines to which he subscribed."

Crane and his class action attorneys at Bursor & Fisher and Hedin Hall did not respond to requests for comment.

An ABA spokesperson said the judge’s ruling speaks for itself and declined to comment further. The bar association was represented by a pair of lawyers from law firm Greenberg Traurig.

The case is Mark Crane v. American Bar Association, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, 2:22-cv-11267

For Mark Crane: Frank Hedin of Hedin Hall, Philip Fraietta of Bursor & Fisher, and Gregory Mitchell, Sharon Almonrode and E. Powell Miller of The Miller Law Firm.

For the ABA: Christopher Dodrill and Jean Valdetero of Greenberg Traurig, and Moheeb Murray of Bush, Seyferth & Paige

Reporting by David Thomas

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.