Ninth Circuit Remands FCRA Case – Actual Injury Not Required for Article III Standing

05 February 2014 Consumer Class Defense Counsel Blog

On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit remanded Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., Case No. 2:10-cv-05306-ODW-AGR on the basis that the district court erred in finding that the Plaintiff, Thomas Robins (“Robins”), did not have Article III “injury-in fact” standing to file his suit alleging violations of Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) §§1681b(b)(1), 1681e(b), and 1681j(a).

Robins alleged that Spokeo, Inc. (“Spokeo”), a website based provider of consumer reports, committed willful violations of the FCRA, §1681n, by including false information — specifically that the unemployed Robins had a graduate degree and was wealthy — in its consumer report.[1] Robins’ initial complaint contained “sparse” injury allegations, and the district court held that Robins failed to allege any “actual or imminent harm.”[2] Robins’ first amended complaint plead that Spokeo’s alleged incorrect consumer report had caused him actual injury to his employment prospects, including anxiety, stress, concern and/or worry regarding his minimal employment prospects.[3] Spokeo filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, alleging that Robins’ allegations were insufficient to show standing under Article III. The district court first dismissed, then upon interlocutory appeal granted, Spokeo’s motion.[4]

In remanding the case, the Ninth Circuit found that the FCRA does not require a showing of actual harm for standing, as the statute provides a private right of action for filing suit pursuant to §1681n.[5] Accordingly, a plaintiff, here Robins, can suffer a violation of a statutory right without suffering actual damages. Further, the court analyzed whether the rights conferred by the FCRA can be deemed “concrete, de facto injuries” which can be elevated for standing purposes.[6] The court determined that Robins met the two constitutional limitations on the FCRA’s conferred standing. One, he was “among the injured” by Spokeo, in that his consumer report contained inaccurate information. Second, the interests protected by the FCRA are sufficiently concrete and particularized that Congress is permitted to elevate them for standing purposes. The court also found that causation and redressability were satisfied in Robins; first amended complaint.[7]

The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Robins, and similar decisions from other jurisdictions, is instructive as it can be used by CRAs in assessing litigation strategy and the risk profile for the matter at issue.

[1] Robins, at 3-4.

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 4.

[4] Id. at 4-5.

[5] Id. at 7-8.

[6] Id. at 9-10.

[7] Id.

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