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U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Spokeo, potentially making it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring “no-injury” FCRA actions based on mere statutory violations

In a highly anticipated Fair Credit Reporting Act decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that Article III standing requires both a concrete and particularized injury—a requirement that is not automatically satisfied by alleging a mere statutory violation. 

Reversing the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court found that the lower court’s injury-in-fact analysis was incomplete because it focused only on whether the alleged injury was “particularized” and left out the independent requirement that the injury also be “concrete” in order to satisfy Article III’s injury-in-fact requirement. “We have made it clear time and time again that an injury in fact must be both concrete and particularized,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

The case centered largely on whether the plaintiff, Thomas Robins, had standing to bring a class-action lawsuit against Spokeo—a “people search engine” that searches various databases to gather and provide personal information about individuals—for allegedly providing prospective employers with inaccurate information on his background, including his age and marital status. Robins alleged that Spokeo violated the FCRA by failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of the information it reported on him, and argued that this alleged statutory violation—with no further injury—was sufficient to satisfy Article III’s standing requirement.

"Congress’ role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to sue to vindicate that right," Alito wrote. "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. For that reason, Robins could not, for example, allege a bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm, and satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III."

Alito further elaborated, noting that “a violation of one of the FCRA’s procedural requirements may result in no harm. For example, even if a consumer reporting agency fails to provide the required notice to a user of the agency’s consumer information, that information regardless may be entirely accurate.” Thus, “not all inaccuracies cause harm or present any material risk of harm,” Alito concluded.

Choosing to take no position as to whether the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate holding—that Robins adequately alleged an injury in fact—was correct, the Court vacated the decision and remanded the case back to the lower court for proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion. 

While we consider this a victory in the defense against FCRA class-action lawsuits, we will continue to fully comply with all aspects of the FCRA, including technical requirements, and encourage all employers to do so as well. 

Source: U.S. Supreme Court, 5/16/2016

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