D.C. Court Rules ZIP Code Isn’t an Address
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently dismissed a class action against Anthropologie Inc. and Urban Outfitters Inc. that alleged the retailers violated D.C. law when they requested ZIP codes from consumers who made purchases with credit cards.
The complaint in Hancock v. Urban Outfitters Inc. alleged violations of the Consumer Protection Procedure Act and the Use of Consumer Identification Information Act (CII Act), which prohibits any person, as a condition of accepting a credit card as payment, from requesting or recording the address or telephone number of a credit card holder on the credit card transaction form.
The court ruled that under D.C. law, a ZIP code does not constitute an “address.” The court further ruled that the retailers did not condition the credit card transaction on consumers providing their ZIP codes, nor did the retailers record the information on the credit card transaction form. In its ruling, the court recognized that ZIP codes are part of an address but rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that they constitute an address by themselves.
Furthermore, even if ZIP codes were addresses, under the facts of the case the defendants did not condition the use of credit cards on consumers providing their ZIP codes but merely requested the information. The court determined that although the term “credit card transaction form” is not defined under the CII Act, common sense dictates that the term means the credit card receipt. As a result, the court reasoned that since the retailers recorded the ZIP codes at the POS register and not the credit card swipe machine, steps were taken to specifically adhere to the law by separating ZIP codes from the credit card information.
Had the case not been dismissed, ZIP code-related class action lawsuits likely would spread beyond California and Massachusetts, where the courts have ruled that retailers could be held liable, either for conditioning acceptance of credit cards on a customer providing personal identification information (in California) or for recording credit card users’ ZIP codes on an electronic credit card transaction form at the point of sale (in Massachusetts). And while these ZIP code cases are not related to escheat matters, the case supports general arguments against the concept of a ZIP code being sufficient to constitute an address for purposes of the priority rules, as previously raised in the unclaimed property legislation battle in New Jersey.