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R.A. v. Amazon.Com, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 6, 2019

R.A. a minor, by and through his guardian, Steve Altes, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
AMAZON.COM, INC. and A2Z DEVELOPMENT CENTER, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REMAND [Dkt. 37]

          CORMAC J. CARNEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On June 11, 2019, Plaintiff R.A. brought this putative class action against Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”), and A2z Development Center, Inc. (“A2z Development”) in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging violations of the California Invasion of Privacy Act (“CIPA”), Cal. Penal Code § 632. (Dkt. 1-1 [Complaint, hereinafter “Compl.”].) Defendants removed the action on July 25, 2019. (Dkt. 1 [Notice of Removal].) Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion to remand the case to Los Angeles County Superior Court. (Dkt. 37 [hereinafter “Mot.”].) For the following reasons, that motion is DENIED.[1]

         II. BACKGROUND

         The allegations in Plaintiff's complaint concern Amazon's smart speaker technology, Alexa. Alexa is “the world's leading voice-responsive personal assistant technology.” (Compl. ¶ 7.) As of January 2019, over 100 million devices containing Alexa had been sold. (Id. ¶ 9.) The Alexa technology allows users to access online information verbally without using their phones or computers. The technology becomes operational after a user downloads the Alexa application and pairs it with a device such as an Amazon Echo or a Sonos speaker. (Id. ¶ 12.) Once this pairing occurs, the Alexa technology is triggered whenever an individual says a “wake word, ” like “Alexa.” (Id. ¶ 15.) Typically, after saying this wake word, Alexa users make some sort of inquiry or request, such as “Alexa, what is the weather today?” (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Once Alexa detects that a wake word has been used, it allegedly records the subsequent communication and sends the recording to Amazon's servers. (Id. ¶ 15.) Transmitting the recording to the servers is what allows Alexa to respond to the user accurately. (Id. ¶ 16.) The recordings are then allegedly stored on Amazon's servers for later use and analysis. (Id. ¶ 17.) This practice of recording and storing users' communications with Alexa allegedly helps Amazon amass huge swaths of consumer data, which it can use in other areas of its business. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24.)

         According to the complaint, Amazon fails to obtain consent to these recording practices from a substantial number of Alexa users. The only people who allegedly consent are the registered users who initially set up the Alexa-enabled device and install the Alexa application. (Id. at 3.) However, Alexa is not programmed to only respond to this consenting person's voice. (Id.) Instead, every time Alexa detects that a wake word has been used, it records and stores the subsequent communication regardless of who the speaker is. (Id. ¶ 14.) Because devices paired with Alexa are typically stored inside homes and used by all of their occupants, Alexa allegedly ends up recording and storing the communications of many people who have not consented to this practice, including minors. (Id. ¶¶ 26-29.)

         Plaintiff R.A. is allegedly one of these nonconsenting minors. His father, a registered user, purchased two Echo Dot smart speakers in November 2018 and paired them with Alexa. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) R.A. is not a registered user, so he never consented to Amazon's recording practices. (Id. ¶ 35.) However, because he uses the Alexa-enabled device a few times per week, his communications are recorded and stored without his consent, in alleged violation of CIPA. (Id. ¶¶ 49-55.)

         Plaintiff brings this CIPA claim on behalf of a proposed class of “all citizens of the State of California who used a household Amazon Alexa device while they were minors, but who have not downloaded and installed the Alexa app.” (Id. ¶ 40.) The complaint names both Amazon and A2z Development as Defendants. Amazon is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Seattle, Washington. (Id. ¶ 2.) A2z is a subsidiary of Amazon and has its principal place of business in Sunnyvale, California. (Id. ¶ 3.) Defendants removed the action to federal court on July 25, 2019, invoking jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (“CAFA”). Plaintiff subsequently moved to remand the action to Superior Court, asserting that the action fits within CAFA's “local controversy” exception. (Mot. at 3.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A civil action brought in state court may be removed by the defendant to a federal district court if the action could have been brought there originally. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The party seeking removal bears the initial burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. Durham v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 445 F.3d 1247, 1252 (9th Cir. 2006). Under CAFA, federal courts have original jurisdiction over a class action if (1) the parties are minimally diverse, (2) the proposed class has more than 100 members, and (3) the aggregated amount in controversy exceeds $5 million. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2). “Congress passed CAFA with the ‘overall intent . . . to strongly favor the exercise of federal diversity jurisdiction over class actions with interstate ramifications.'” Brinkley v. Monterey Fin. Servs., Inc., 873 F.3d 1118, 1121 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting S. Rep. No. 109-14, at 35 (2005)).

         There are several exceptions to federal jurisdiction under CAFA, however. A district court must decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action if the requirements of the “local controversy” exception are met. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(4). The local controversy exception applies to a class action in which:

(I) greater than two-thirds of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate are citizens of the State in which ...

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