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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Long v. Tommy Hilfiger, 11-1554 (3d Cir., 2012)

Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, merchants who print credit card numbers on customers' receipts are required to truncate the card number.  They are also not permitted to print the card's expiration date.  Where a merchant fails to truncate the card number or prints the expiration date in willful violation of the Act's proscriptions, it is subject to statutory damages and to attorneys' fees; where a merchant's failure is merely the result of an erroneous reading of the Act, however, plaintiffs' damages are limited to recovering actual damages.

On October 29, 2009, Long bought a tie from a Tommy Hilfiger store for $24.99.  The receipt included the month, but not the year, of his card's expiration.  Although he suffered no damages, he nevertheless filed suit.

The Third Circuit conceded that merchants are required to omit expiration dates entirely, and are not permitted to truncate them.  This is so, the Court reasoned, because, taking Hilfiger’s argument to its logical conclusion, a merchant would not violate FACTA so long as it redacted even a single number from either the month or year of the card’s expiration date. Furthermore, different merchants could each choose to redact different portions of the expiration date, making it possible to ascertain the entire expiration date from multiple receipts.  This, of course, would be inconsistent with the statute’s objective of preventing identity theft and a result certainly not intended by Congress.

Nevertheless, the Court held that Hilfiger's error was not objectively unreasonable, and therefore willful.  As such, Long's recovery was limited to his actual damages -- in other words, nothing.

In describing the challenged transaction, however, the Court took care to put the purchased item -- "men's neckwear" in scare quotes.  It also carefully re-printed the receipt; a decision that not-so-tacitly dismisses the privacy complaint that should have motivated a more legitimate claim under FACTA.

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