ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Target data breach is now the subject of a massive court case, and Wednesday, nearly 100 lawyers from across the country crowded into a St. Paul courtroom as the legal jockeying began.
More than 140 lawsuits - filed against Target by consumers, shareholders and banks - have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. With so many players, the judge made it clear that resolving the mess will be a long slog, and he won’t tolerate stalling.
“I know Target would like to have big, long, indefinite stays,” Magnuson said at Wednesday’s case management conference. “I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Gathered in the courtroom were scores of attorneys who had variously handled huge cases, including 9/11 lawsuits, the NFL antitrust case, the Sony data breach, the TJX data breach and the Heartland Payment data breach.
“I’m beginning to learn this data breach business is quite a cottage industry,” Magnuson said.
Those lawyers are now focusing their firepower on Target Corp., where 40 million shoppers had their credit- and debit-card data stolen by cyber thieves during the past holiday shopping season. Much of the stolen information was sold online to other criminals, which alarmed shoppers and led to sizeable losses.
And possibly some 70 million additional shoppers had other data compromised.
Some consumer fraud was reported, and over the winter, banks began proactively canceling and replacing people’s credit cards.
Yet for all the lawsuits, Target drew praise Wednesday from an unexpected quarter: a succession of local lawyers who had filed cases against the Minneapolis-based discounter.
“Target is an important and valued citizen of our community,” attorney Bucky Zimmerman of Minneapolis told the judge, who later selected Zimmerman to be lead counsel in the cluster of the bank-related cases.
Zimmerman vowed to be the banks’ advocate, but he said of Target: “I want to give them the respect that they deserve.”
Added Karl Cambronne of Minneapolis, who was named overall lead counsel: “I echo entirely Bucky Zimmerman’s notion that we’re not dealing here with a villain.”
Wednesday marked the first time all parties in the cases had gathered together, as Magnuson and U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Keyes tried to lay down the process that would let the complex lawsuit proceed.
The cases will be grouped into three clusters. The largest group of 111 cases is the consumer lawsuits. A second group of 29 cases was filed by banks and credit unions, which suffered fraud losses and the costs of reissuing cards. A third group of four cases is shareholder lawsuits.
Under an initial timetable, trials are scheduled for early in 2016 - unless the cases are settled first, an outcome that Magnuson said he’d welcome.
“Courts encourage settlement,” Cambronne said later. “Especially in a case like this; it’s a complex can of worms.”
In recent Minnesota history, few cases have had such national prominence and so many attorneys. The NFL antitrust case was one. The tobacco industry case was another.
But it’s a short list. The Target data breach case is a mix of 110 million affected consumers, a $72 billion-a-year corporation, an untold number of unhappy banks and a shady underground of cybercriminals.
“Conceivably, any bank located in the United States could be affected by this data breach,” Bryan Bleichner, an attorney with Chestnut Cambronne, the Minneapolis firm of the case’s lead counsel. “We don’t yet know the full extent.”
It’s not yet clear whether class-action status will be granted in the case. If it is, that could clear the way for millions of Target shoppers to join in.
“I’d put it this way,” Magnuson told the attorneys. “If there isn’t a class motion pending, there’s sure going to be one.”
Target officials offered no comment about Wednesday’s courtroom activity.
Magnuson was tasked Wednesday with choosing lead attorneys for the overall case and the three sub-clusters. He opted for Minnesota attorneys where possible.
“I feel rather strongly this is a Minnesota litigation,” Magnuson said.
Meanwhile, many of the attorneys who had flown to St. Paul left as quickly as they came. But as the case moves along, those attorneys will be back.
“The mayor’s very happy you’re here spending your money,” Magnuson said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service. Pioneer Press reporter Nick Woltman contributed to this report.