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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 10, 2017 1 year ago

For the class

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John Yanchunis has taken on the biggest companies for consumers involved in data breaches. His latest case is colossal.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Morgan & Morgan's John Yanchunis is tackling the biggest class-action lawsuit in history, as lead counsel in the Yahoo data breach case.

But work like this isn't far-fetched for the Tampa-based lawyer, who has had his hands in several notable class-action cases regarding data breaches. The list includes suits against The Home Depot Inc. and Target Corp.

Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh, in a Feb. 9 order, determined Yanchunis would be the most appropriate lead plantiffs' counsel and chair of the plantiffs' executive committee in the Yahoo case. Yanchunis beat out three other firms for the position.

Yanchunis was intrigued by the Yahoo case because it is the largest of its kind ever filed, he says. The data breach occurred in 2014, but Yahoo didn't disclose it until 2016, a key part of the case. “The consumers are all over the earth,” he says, “wherever Yahoo had a reach.”

His goal is to unite the 1.4 billion people worldwide who were all impacted under the rights of the law in California.

That could get tricky with the application of the law in other countries, Yanchunis says, but he believes the law should apply because the company is based in California and the breach occurred in California. Another obstacle: applying the jurisdiction of the court to encompass all worldwide victims has never been done before. Says Yanchunis: “I think I'm going to force them to do it.”

With 25 class-action suits filed, Yanchunis's first step is to consolidate an amended complaint that includes all of the victims. Then the team will move to the discovery and class certification steps.
Yanchunis expects that the case should be complete within two years.

Yanchunis, 65, hopes to receive relief for consumers' stolen information, which still poses a threat, even though the breach occurred more than two years ago. He believes Yahoo should put the best forms of credit protection in place and should compensate the consumers for any damages, including loss of time spent investigating issues.

Last year Yanchunis was co-lead counsel in the Home Depot case that impacted consumers who made purchases in store for a period in 2014. The company agreed to a settlement fund of $13 million for impacted consumers, up to $10,000 a person for damages and loss of time, in addition to paying for 18 months of credit monitoring.

In 2013, Yanchunis worked on the Target class-action suit, representing 100 million consumers impacted by a 2013 data breach. The case settled in 2015 for $10 million.

“Everyone was affected in one of those two cases,” Yanchunis says. His experience there, along with his argument that Morgan & Morgan has more than 300 attorneys who only represent consumers, helped him win the Yahoo case, he says.

Yanchunis is also working on a case against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which had a data breach impacting information of 22 million government employees and contractors.

Looking back at his 37-year career in law, Yanchunis says the class-action case he's most proud of is when he represented a group of people who were unable to access funds that were direct deposited on a debit card for a period of two weeks. The card was sold in a predominately African American community in the lower tier of the economy. Many people were highly impacted by losing access to these funds, he says. They were evicted, couldn't eat, couldn't pay their bills.

Yanchunis and the rest of the attorneys were able to earn a $20.5 million settlement against the company, achieving a result that was more than what the plaintiffs had lost, Yanchunis says. The attorneys decided not to take a percentage of what the class received for the case, and instead just took a fee. “All the money went to the class,” he says. For that, he has “tremendous pride.”

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