Yahoo data-breach class-action lawsuits joined together in San Jose federal court

Five of at least 23 lawsuits against Yahoo over its record-setting and controversial data breach have been consolidated into one suit, set to be heard in federal court in San Jose.

Yahoo, which is in the midst of a $4.8 billion sale to Verizon, in September announced that hackers in 2014 had stolen personal information from at least 500 million user accounts. The firm said at the time that it had discovered the breach, believed to be the largest data theft in history, during a “recent” investigation.

But last month in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Yahoo admitted it had known about the breach, which it has blamed on a state-sponsored actor, in 2014. And the company in the filing said that the Verizon sale could fall through.

Within hours of Yahoo’s original announcement in September about the hacking, the first suit was filed. The following day, Ronald Schwartz, identified as a Yahoo user from New York, filed a similar lawsuit, also seeking class-action status, against Yahoo. More such actions followed.

On Dec. 7, a panel of federal judges combined those two cases and three others into one suit, and set it to be heard in U.S. district court in San Jose under Judge Lucy Koh. Four of the suits were filed originally in California, and one in Illinois.

“These actions involve common questions of fact, and that centralization will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses,” the panel said. “Yahoo’s corporate headquarters is located within the district, and therefore relevant documents and witnesses are likely to be located there.”

The five lawsuits have in common questions about Yahoo’s protection of users’ data; the company’s investigation of the breach; the “alleged delay in disclosing the breach;” and the nature of the alleged damages, the panel said.

Schwartz, in his suit, called Yahoo “grossly negligent” in its handling of user data.

The first suit, filed in San Diego the day Yahoo revealed the hack, had been filed by plaintiffs who before the revelation had suspected their personal data had been stolen somehow. “They were trying to figure out how people were accessing their information,” their lawyer David Casey told the Mercury News at the time. “When this (breach) became public, they put two and two together.”

Meanwhile, the fate of Yahoo remains uncertain. The sale was to close in the first quarter of next year. Many analysts believe that if the sale to Verizon does go through, Verizon will pay a discounted price because of the breach and Yahoo’s response to it.

Yahoo’s stock price has fallen 6 percent from $44.14 the day before it announced the data breach to close at $41.41 Thursday.

 

Photo: Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

 

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