As a series of lawsuits against some of the nations largest retailers for illegally revealing too much credit card information on printed receipts winds its way through the courts, one federal judge has ruled that some key retail defenses are "absurd" and "unreasonable."
In a decision handed down May 3, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess ruled for the consumer plaintiffs in one of the cases and against Adidas retail operations. His ruling allowed the lawsuits to proceed intact.
In the initial lawsuits filed early this year, some 50 of the nations top retailers—including Rite Aid, Harry & David, Ikea, KB Toys, Disney, Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters—were accused of printing full credit numbers and/or expiration dates on printed customer receipts, violating a provision of FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act).
Although there are many consumer plaintiffs and many retail defendants, the arguments on both sides in the cases are similar. Feess ruling focused on some of the key retail defenses to the accusations, including that the statute is vaguely worded and might prohibit both an expiration date and a full card number appearing, but not either.
The arguments are critical because many retailers have been caught printing the receipts with the forbidden data, so if they cant prevail with legal arguments, they could face mountains of fines. Even worse, despite POS (point-of-sale) vendor assurances, the forbidden data is still periodically appearing.
In the Adidas case, Feess addressed the retail claim that the statutes wording could be interpreted multiple ways.
"The question here is essentially whether [the law] is sufficiently clear that its prohibitions would be understood by an ordinary person operating a profit-driven business. The judge ruled that the FACTA section easily meets this standard because its words have only one reasonable meaning: No person . . . shall print more than the last 5 digits of the card number or the expiration date upon any receipt clearly means that (1) no person shall print more than the last 5 digits of the card number, and (2) no person shall print the expiration date. In other words, a retailer must print no more than 5 digits of a card number, and also must omit the expiration date—doing either violates the statute."
The judge then shot down the Adidas arguments that the law is confusingly worded. "Adidas attempts to obfuscate this plain meaning by advancing two competing interpretations that border on the absurd. First, Adidas contends that the statute could be read to allow a business to print the credit cards expiration date on the receipt so long as no more than the last 5 digits of the card appear. Second, Adidas argues it could be read so that the phrase last 5 digits modifies both card number and expiration date, and thus that a business would be in compliance so long as it truncated the card number and printed only the last five digits of the expiration date. Each interpretation is bizarre," the judge wrote.
"The first ignores the plain reference to the expiration date, essentially by contending that Congress prohibited only printing both an untruncated card number and an expiration date on the same receipt," the judge said. "This would lead to the absurd result that a firm could print an entire card number so long as it omitted the expiration date. No reasonable person would think that this was Congress intent."
Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.