In David Karling, et. Al. v. Samsara, Inc., a federal court in the Northern District of Illinois has declined to dismiss a class action complaint brought under the Illinois Biometric Information & Privacy Act (“BIPA”), by a truck driver against a maker of facial recognition camera technology. The plaintiff alleged that Samsara was liable because the dash cam installed by his employer took facial scans, and Samsara collected those scans and shared them with the employer without complying with BIPA's requirements. Plaintiff David Karling, on behalf of himself and a putative class, alleges that Defendant Samsara Inc. ("Samsara"), violated BIPA by collecting his information from facial scans without notice or release; disseminating that information to third parties; failing to create, disclose and adhere to a written policy for data retention and destruction; and profiting from these actions.

What is the Case About?

The court describes the facts of the case as follows:

Samsara provides facial recognition software and sensors to commercial fleets and industrial operations. The Samsara cameras capture the actions of the drivers to monitor for fatigue and distraction. Karling worked in Illinois as a driver for Lily Transportation, a customer of Samsara. In 2021, Lily Transportation installed an AI Dash Camera, provided by Samsara, in Karling's truck. The AI Dashcam extracted biometric identifiers from Karling's face while he drove and sent them to the Samsara Cloud Dashboard, where Samsara stored the images. The Samsara Camera includes a feature called Camera ID, which automatically performed facial recognition to identify Karling by extracting biometric identifiers and comparing those to the stored data. Karling never gave permission for the collection and storage of his biometric data. Samsara never provided Karling with a written release, the required statutory disclosures, or a retention and destruction policy. Karling never signed a written release or had an opportunity to prevent this collection and use of his biometric data.”

Samsara moved to dismiss the Complaint on a number of grounds including that federal law governing truck safety technology preempted the state law-based BIPA claims. Samsara also argued that BIPA as applied to it, violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, as BIPA places a great burden on “interstate motor carriers and their technology providers and would substantially interfere with interstate commerce” by unconstitutionally projecting Illinois law onto other states and placing a significant burden on interstate commerce.

Court Rules That Preemption Defense Can't Be Decided on a Motion to Dismiss on These Facts

Citing Cap. Cities Cable, Inc. v. Crisp, 467 U.S. 691, 699 (1984) the court noted that “[f]ederal law may preempt state law in three situations: when Congress expressly states so, when a federal regulatory scheme implies exclusive congressional legislative power, and in cases of “actual conflict”. Samsara did not argue that BIPA conflicts with a particular federal statute but rather urged “the Court to find “a uniform scheme of federal regulation of truck safety technology” disrupted by BIPA's Illinois-specific requirements.” But this the court declined to do. Instead, the court reasoned that:

The scattershot nature of Samsara's cited agency statements and proposed rulemaking hardly qualifies as a uniform federal scheme to regulate truck safety technology. The Court cannot find “a clear and manifest” Congressional purpose to preempt state regulation of “truck safety technology” from these disparate sources, which range from a law that directed DOT [Department of Transportation] to conduct research and rulemaking on driver monitoring systems to a recent federal initiative to incentivize driver-safety technologies. Although these sources potentially touch on biometrics and privacy concerns, their overwhelming aim is traffic safety, while BIPA targets “disclosure, consent, and recordkeeping requirements” for biometric identifiers.

The court did not find the preemption issue appropriate for deciding on a motion to dismiss, and denied the motion.

The Court Can't Decide Whether BIPA Violates the Dormant Commerce Clause on the Motion to Dismiss

Samsara moved to dismiss the complaint under the Dormant Commerce Clause, arguing that: 

BIPA, as applied to it, places a great burden on “interstate motor carriers and their technology providers and would substantially interfere with interstate commerce.” [citation omitted] According to Samsara, BIPA unconstitutionally projects Illinois law onto other states and would place a significant burden on it because it would “require Samsara either to ensure compliance with BIPA everywhere Samsara does business or, absurdly, to prohibit its customers from using Samsara technology while driving in Illinois due to risk of noncompliance.” [citation omitted] Karling argues that, again, the Court should decide this issue on a full factual record. The Court agrees.”

Noting that “courts have repeatedly rejected the argument that the Dormant Commerce Clause prevents BIPA's application to out-of-state defendants at the motion to dismiss stage” and holding that the “issue is more properly addressed on a motion for summary judgment” the court dismissed Samsara's argument. Instead, the court reasoned that “[w]ithout discovery into Samsara's processes for scanning, storing, and using biometrics with its dashcam system and the alleged burden of compliance with BIPA, the Court cannot determine whether there is a Dormant Commerce Clause violation.”

The Complaint Adequately Alleged Other BIPA Violations

The court next analyzed whether the Complaint adequately alleged BIPA violations under Sections 15(a) through 15 (d) and found that it did. In making such findings the court rejected arguments that: (1) Samsara's website adequately provided a written policy regarding retention and destruction of biometric data (Section 15(a); (2) the release requirement applies only to employers (Section 15 (b); (3) Samsara is not liable because it only possessed and did not collect the biometric data (Section 15 (c); and (4) the Complaint inadequately alleged that Samsara profited from the collection of the biometric data (Section 15(d). Finally, the court found that the Complaint adequately alleged facts supporting an award of enhanced damages for Samsara's intentional or reckless disregard of compliance with the requirements of BIPA.

What Does This Mean For Companies Collecting Biometric Data?

Companies collecting or using biometric data in their businesses need to understand and comply with the requirements of BIPA if they are doing business in Illinois or collecting the biometric data of Illinois consumers. BIPA continues to be a trap for the unwary company, and class actions filed in Illinois under BIPA cannot easily be defeated on a motion to dismiss, but instead will likely require the investment of time and money in expensive and burdensome discovery, and the development of a factual record in order to dispose of the case.

The case is David Karling et al. v. Samsara Inc., case number 1:22-cv-00295, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Tactical Law will continue to monitor the case. Please check back for updates.

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