9th Circuit rules Golden Gate Bridge users' privacy suit belongs in state court

By Charmaine Little | Dec 14, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – A case over privacy concerns with the toll system at the Golden Gate Bridge belongs in state court, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit determined a case against a toll collector and two state entities, including the Golden Gate Bridge Highway, does belong in state court and affirmed a group of plaintiffs’ motion to remand the case Dec. 13.

Judge Mary M. Schroeder authored the opinion and Judge David A. Ezra concurred while Judge Paul J. Watford dissented.

Sumatra Kendrick and another Golden Gate driver sued state organizations Bay Area Toll Authority and Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District as well as a private toll-collecting company Conduent State and Local Solutions Inc. via the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Conduent was under contract to run the bridge’s toll system.

Kendrick and the other plaintiff alleged the defendants violated their privacy and distributed the information collected over toll bridges to third parties like banks, car rental companies and law enforcement entities. They allege the parties violated the California Streets and Highway Code.

They first filed the case in San Francisco Superior Court before Conduent removed it to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs moved to have the case remanded back to state court from federal court, which a lower court granted. Conduent challenged that and appealed, stating the case belongs in federal court because it’s not a state entity.

Conduent’s key argument was that it’s not a state organization and the district court erred in remanding the case to state court, when, according to Conduent, it should be heard and argued federal court. Conduent also used a clause in the 11th Amendment to argue its case, stating it is immune to lawsuits such as this. 

The 9th Circuit disagreed, saying that the CAFA's purpose is to keep small, local issues in state courts.

"The Golden Gate Bridge may be a national treasure, but whether collection of its tolls is a controversy that belongs in federal court is a different question,” Schroeder wrote. "This is essentially a dispute between those who used the bridge to travel between Marin County, California and San Francisco, California, and defendants who are charged with operating the bridge on behalf of the state of California. The district court properly ruled that the case against Conduent, the toll collector, belongs in state court with the California entities that manage the bridge's maintenance and operation."

Watford dissented and said he agreed this suit belongs in state court, but that CAFA calls for it to be heard in federal court.

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