Sixth Circuit Rules that High-Volume Phone and Email Campaign Violates Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
By Michael Hoven – Edited by Abby Lauer
Pulte Homes, Inc. v. Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am., Nos. 09-2245; 10-1673 (6th Cir. Aug. 2, 2011)
The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which had granted the Laborers’ International Union of North America’s (“LIUNA”) motion to dismiss Pulte Homes’ claim that LIUNA had violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) by carrying out a phone and email campaign against Pulte. The district court held that Pulte failed to show that LIUNA intentionally caused damage to Pulte’s phone and email systems.
The Sixth Circuit held that Pulte had successfully stated a “transmission” claim under the CFAA but agreed with the district court that it had not stated an “access” claim. The Sixth Circuit concluded that Pulte alleged sufficient facts to state a transmission claim, which requires showing that the defendant intentionally caused damage. The court reasoned that LIUNA’s phone and email bombardment had caused damage to Pulte’s computer system by diminishing Pulte’s ability to send and receive calls and emails. Such damage was also intentional, the court found, because LIUNA likely knew it was causing damage even if it acted without actual knowledge of the consequences of its phone and email barrage. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the lower court that Pulte failed to state an access claim but articulated different reasoning, holding that LIUNA’s actions were not “without authorization” because Pulte allowed members of the public to contact its offices and executives by phone or email. In so holding, the court adopted a “diminished-ability” standard for assessing damage, which may broaden liability under the CFAA.
The Computer Fraud/Data Protection blog provides an overview of the case. Techdirt criticizes the decision for expanding the CFAA beyond its original purpose of combating computer hacking to cover emails sent as part of a labor protest. The Technology & Marketing Law Blog questions whether Pulte had suffered significant damage and whether the allegations were sufficient to demonstrate intent on the part of LIUNA. (more…)