Seventh Circuit Affirms Decision Below in Favor of Blackstone in Ancestry Privacy Case
In Bridges and Cunningham v. Blackstone, Inc., the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in favor of Blackstone, the defendant-appellee. Plaintiffs Carolyn Bridges and Raymond Cunningham filed a class action against Blackstone, alleging that the firm violated the Genetic Information Privacy Act (GIPA) in its acquisition of Ancentry.com.
The plaintiffs submitted their DNA samples for genetic review years earlier to Ancestry.com. The plaintiffs allege that in Blackstone’s acquisition of Ancestry.com, it violated GIPA, which prohibits the disclosure of the identity of any person upon whom a genetic test is performed, or the results of such a test, in a manner that permits identification of the subject of the test. GIPA allows for a person aggrieved by a violation to sue in Illinois courts.
The plaintiffs first filed their case in Illinois state court, and Blackstone removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act. The district court in the Southern District of Illinois dismissed the case for failure to state a claim, and the plaintiffs appealed the decision.
The Appeals Court reviewed the district court’s decision to dismiss the complaint and concluded that the complaint failed to adequately allege any compulsory disclosure, as to obtain relief under GIPA. The court reasoned that even if a disclosure occurred and was compulsory, the complaint failed to allege that the genetic information could permit identification of the plaintiffs because the protected data was anonymized.
The plaintiffs argued that Blackstone compelled the disclosure of protected genetic information through the act of acquiring Ancestry, and the district court and Appeals Court found this theory to be limited and straightforward. The Appeals Court stated that they cannot plausibly infer that a corporate acquisition, without additional allegations regarding the transaction, results in a compulsory disclosure within the meaning of GIPA. Furthermore, they could not infer that Blackstone compelled Ancestry to disclose genetic information from the acquisition alone, especially one structured as a stock transaction.
The Appeals Court did not address the issue of whether GIPA liability can attach to a company like Blackstone that allegedly receives protected information, rather than discloses that information, as the plaintiffs failed to state a claim regardless, stemming from the fact that the information was anonymized.
In conclusion, the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim, in favor of Blackstone. This ruling provides clarification on the application of the Genetic Information Privacy Act, and the requirements to establish compulsory disclosure.