The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has held that Facebook users in Europe may file consumer lawsuits against the social network in their home countries rather than in Facebook’s headquarters in Ireland, but may do so only in their individual capacity and not by class action suits. The decision was delivered in the continuing legal battle between the Austrian digital activist Maximilian Schrems and Facebook. Schrems sued Facebook in a local court in Austria alleging that the social network violated data protection laws. In an attempt to circumvent the absence of a class action instrument in Austria, Schrems added thousands of other Facebook users from Austria and other EU states as additional plaintiffs to the suit.
Facebook asserted that Schrems cannot utilize consumer protection laws to file suit in his local venue in Austria because he was active on Facebook in a professional capacity as a digital activist rather than in an individual capacity as a consumer. The CJUE rejected Facebook’s contention and held that Schrems did not lose his capacity as a consumer even where he incidentally uses his Facebook account to promote himself as an expert speaker, author and digital activist. However, the CJEU held that a consumer lawsuit asserted in the consumer’s local jurisdiction cannot be used as a vehicle to join additional aggrieved consumers, whether or not they are domiciled in the same jurisdiction or elsewhere in the EU.