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Meta, law firm Gibson Dunn sanctioned in Facebook privacy case

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday sanctioned Meta Platforms Inc and its law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for “delay, misdirection and frivolous arguments” in a data privacy lawsuit over the company’s sharing of user information with third-parties.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco ordered Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and Gibson Dunn to pay about $925,000 over what he said was an effort to make the litigation unnecessarily difficult and expensive for the plaintiffs.

Chhabria, who has long been critical of Gibson Dunn’s handling of the case, said the firm and Facebook mounted a “sustained, concerted, bad-faith effort to throw obstacle after obstacle in front of the plaintiffs—all in an attempt to push the plaintiffs into settling the case for less than they would have gotten otherwise."

Representatives for Gibson Dunn and Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The firm has argued in court filings that it followed court orders and has blamed the plaintiffs for issuing “unreasonable and incessant” demands for company documents. Los Angeles-founded Gibson Dunn has represented the company in numerous matters.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, agreed last year to pay $725 million to settle the lawsuit, which was sparked by revelations in 2018 that Facebook had allowed British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to access data of as many as 87 million users. The company did not admit wrongdoing.

In Thursday’s decision, the judge faulted Meta and its lawyers for claiming they were only required to produce internal documents in the case about user data the company admitted it shared with third-parties. The court had ordered Facebook to turn over data it had collected on the plaintiffs in the case, regardless of whether it had been shared.

The judge also accused Meta's legal team of needlessly delaying turning over documents related to an internal investigation Facebook had commissioned into third-party apps that accessed user data.

The case is IN RE: Facebook, INC. Consumer Privacy User Profile Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 18-md-02843-VC.

For plaintiffs: Derek Loeser of Keller Rohrback and Lesley Weaver of Bleichmar Fonti

For Meta: Rosemarie Ring of Gibson Dunn

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward)