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Peterson v. Aaron's, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

June 4, 2015

MICHAEL PETERSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AARON’S, INC., et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS W. THRASH, JR. United States District Judge

The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendant Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc. unlawfully accessed their computers from a remote location and collected private information stored therein. The Plaintiffs allege that Aspen Way accomplished this by means of a program which it installs on the computers before leasing or selling them to its customers. It is before the Court on the Defendant Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 25] and the Defendant Aaron’s, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 26]. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 25] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part and the Defendant Aaron’s, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 26] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. Background

The Defendant Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc. – a Montana-based franchisee of the Defendant Aaron’s, Inc.[1] – is in the business of, inter alia, leasing and selling personal computers. This case is about software that Aspen Way allegedly installs on its lease-purchase computers.[2] This software – called PC Rental Agent – allows Aspen Way to remotely access web-camera photographs, user activity logs, and other private information stored on the lease-purchase computers.[3] Aspen Way allegedly does not notify its customers that this software is installed on the computers.[4]

The Plaintiffs Michael Peterson and Matthew Lyons – residents of Colorado and Oklahoma, respectively[5] – were lease-purchasers of computers from Aspen Way’s Colorado retail store. They claim that Aspen Way, through the PC Rental Agent software, remotely accessed their computers and retrieved private information. They brought suit against Aspen Way and Aaron’s, Inc., asserting state law claims for (1) violation of the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act (“GCSPA”) and (2) common law invasion of privacy.

II. Legal Standard

A plaintiff may survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) if the factual allegations in the Complaint give rise to a plausible claim for relief.[6] For a claim to be plausible, the supporting factual matter must establish more than a mere possibility that the plaintiff is entitled to relief.[7] In determining whether a plaintiff has met this burden, the Court must assume all of the factual allegations in the Complaint to be true. The Court, however, need not accept as true any legal conclusions found in the Complaint.[8]

III. Discussion

A. GCSPA

The Defendants argue that the GCSPA does not apply extra-territorially. And thus, according to the Defendants, because all of the alleged unlawful acts took place outside of Georgia, the GCSPA claims must be dismissed. Generally, Courts may not “assume[] ... that the [legislature of Georgia] attempted to enact legislation having an extraterritorial effect.”[9] Here, no part of the GCSPA indicates that it applies extra-territorially. And based on the Amended Complaint, none of the alleged conduct giving rise to the Plaintiffs’ claims has any relation to the state of Georgia. As the Defendants point out, the Plaintiffs are residents of Colorado and Oklahoma, and Aspen Way – a Montana-based franchisee – leased computers to the Plaintiffs out of its Colorado retail store. In addition, the Plaintiffs do not allege that Aspen Way conducted any of the alleged unlawful acts from Georgia.

In response, the Plaintiffs argue that, based on Georgia’s choice of law rules, the GCSPA may apply. This misses the point. The Court is determining whether the statute, by its text, provides a remedy for the wrongful acts alleged by the Plaintiffs. Thus, the question is one of statutory interpretation: does the GCSPA provide a remedy for culpable acts and subsequent injuries that took place outside of Georgia?

The Eastern District of Michigan confronted a similar issue when it had to determine whether the Michigan Builders’ Trust Fund Act applied to projects located outside of the state of Michigan. Prior to addressing the issue, the court noted:

It is necessary to set forth the distinction between conflict of laws principles and statutory interpretation. A conflict of laws inquiry is necessary only if there are two relevant forums with divergent laws. This occurs only if the court determines that both forums’ legislators intended their law to apply to the situation. In other words, the court interprets both forums’ laws; if both apply, the court moves on to a conflict of laws determination. Here . . . it is only necessary to engage in a statutory analysis to determine the scope of the [Michigan Builders’ Trust Fund Act]-i.e., to see if the [Michigan Builders’ Trust Fund Act] applies.[10]

The Plaintiffs then argue that the class members they seek to represent live in a number of states, and possibly even Georgia. This may be true, but the question here is whether the Plaintiffs Peterson and Lyons have stated a plausible claim for relief under the GCSPA. Because they ...


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