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Giordano v. Wachovia Securities

July 31, 2006

LOIS GIORDANO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WACHOVIA SECURITIES, LLC ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

This case presents the interesting issue of whether a case, having been removed from State court to Federal court, in which the plaintiff lacks Article III standing to pursue her claim, should be dismissed in Federal court or remanded to State court. This matter, which was removed by Defendant from the Superior Court of New Jersey to this Court, is before the Court upon a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) filed on behalf of Defendant Wachovia Securities, LLC ("Wachovia"). This motion relates to Plaintiff Lois Giordano's four-count complaint (the "Complaint") alleging (1) negligence, (2) invasion of privacy, (3) breach of the duty of confidentiality, and (4) conversion stemming from the loss of Plaintiff's personal and financial information. In short, the Court finds, as alleged by Defendant itself, that Plaintiff has failed to allege that she suffered an injury-in-fact and therefore has not met the Constitutional requirements for standing in Federal court under Article III.*fn1 Having determined that Plaintiff did not fulfill the minimal constitutional requirements for Federal court standing, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and cannot address the merits and, under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), this Court shall (1) deny Wachovia's motion to dismiss and (2) remand the case back to State court.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is Lois Giordano, a customer of Wachovia Securities, LLC. (Complaint at ¶¶ 1-2.) As part of opening an individual retirement account with Wachovia in June of 2004, Plaintiff signed a New Account Application which stated that she agreed that the account would be governed by Wachovia's "Customer Agreement."*fn2 In connection with her account, Plaintiff provided Wachovia with certain information about her - including her name, address, and Social Security Number. (Compl. at ¶ 1.) In connection with the maintenance of Plaintiff's account, Wachovia generated an account number for Plaintiff's funds and kept track of her account balance. (Id.)

Approximately ten months after Plaintiff opened her account, Wachovia printed a report which contained financial information about Plaintiff and tens of thousands of other Wachovia customers. (Id. at ¶ 10, 13.) On March 28, 2005, Wachovia mailed the report, via the United Parcel Service ("UPS"), to Wachovia's New Jersey branch office. (Id.) The package was never received. (Id.) In response to the loss of this package, Wachovia sent Plaintiff (and others) a letter informing her of the loss of her information and stating that Wachovia and UPS have "conduct[ed] a thorough and extensive investigation to locate the package, including interviewing all individuals who may have handled the missing packages and carefully reviewing the carrier's procedures and internal reports." (Melodia Cert. ¶ 4, Ex. C.) The letter continued, stating that Wachovia "believe[s] the package was damaged during shipment and, pursuant to the carrier's procedures, was destroyed... [and that] [t]here is no evidence of theft of the report or your information...[or] that the report has been obtained by a third party." (Id.) In the same letter, Wachovia offered to pay for a year of credit monitoring services, which Plaintiff accepted. (Id.)

With Plaintiff's year of free credit monitoring services ending in July of 2006, Plaintiff filed a putative class action suit against Wachovia and UPS in New Jersey Superior Court (Atlantic County) on December 16, 2005. [Docket Item No. 1.] The Complaint alleges claims of negligence (Count I), invasion of privacy (Count II), breach of the duty of confidentiality (Count III) and conversion (Count IV). (Compl. ¶ 18-36.) The Complaint seeks, among other remedies, that this Court order Wachovia to establish a credit monitoring program, at Wachovia's expense, "to ensure timely detection of any and all persons who attempt to use Plaintiff's information as a result of the carelessness and reckless conduct of [Wachovia]" or that Wachovia reimburse Plaintiff for such services. (Compl. at 9.)

On February 1, 2006, the case was removed from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, to this Court. [Docket Item No. 1.] On February 21, 2006, Wachovia and UPS filed separate motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. [Docket Item Nos. 11 and 14, respectively.]*fn3 Plaintiff filed opposition to Wachovia's motion on April 7, 2006 [Docket Item No. 23.] to which Wachovia timely replied on April 14, 2006. [Docket Item No. 23.] The Court heard oral argument on May 26, 2006.

II. DISCUSSION

Wachovia makes three main arguments in support of its motion to dismiss. First, Wachovia argues that Plaintiff lacks the constitutional standing to bring this action and therefore, the action must be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Second, Wachovia argues that Plaintiff is precluded from these claims under the limitation of liability provision of the Customer Agreement. Finally, Wachovia argues that Plaintiff's claims of negligence, invasion of privacy, breach of confidentiality and conversion all fail because each claim lacks at least one essential element of the cause of action.

Because every litigant in the federal courts must have standing to bring a claim sufficient to satisfy the "case or controversy" requirement within the meaning of Article III of the Constitution of the United States, this Court will first address the issue of Plaintiff's standing. A conclusion that Plaintiff lacks standing moots the other arguments raised by Wachovia and requires this Court to deny Wachovia's motion to dismiss and remand this case back to the state court from which it was removed.

A. Standard of Review under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

A motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) seeks dismissal due to the lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Before a federal court can consider the merits of a legal claim, "the person seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of the court must establish the requisite standing to sue." Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 154 (1990); see also Petroleos Mexicanos Refinancion v. M/T KING, A (Ex-Tbilisi), 377 F.3d 329, 224 (3d Cir. 2004)("standing is a question of subject matter jurisdiction.") Article III of the Constitution limits the judicial power of federal courts to "cases or controversies" between parties. U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2. To satisfy Article III's standing requirements, a plaintiff must allege:

(1) [an] injury in fact, which is an invasion of a legally protected interest that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) [that] it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Danvers Motor Co., Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 432 F.3d 286, 290-91 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)). To establish an "injury in fact," a plaintiff must show that he has "sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as the result of the challenged official conduct and the injury or threat of injury must be both 'real and immediate,' not 'conjectural' or 'hypothetical.'" City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 4 ...


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