The U.S. Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a highly watched privacy case which will have great significance in the rapidly changing area of privacy law.
The case is Spokeo Inc. v. Thomas Robins, et. al. The case stems from a claim by Thomas Robins that he suffered injury when Spokeo, a company that compiles information from various sources and prepares reports on the information and sells it to subscribers, provided inaccurate personal information about him to prospective employers. Robins claims that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) because it unfairly reported false information about him, which caused him harm. The inaccurate information included his employment status, marital status, age, educational background, economic health and wealth level, as well as a picture of someone else.
The case was originally dismissed by a California federal judge in January of 2011, who held that the alleged violation did not sufficiently satisfy Article III standing as no injury-in-fact was shown. The judge stated that Robins had not alleged “actual or imminent harm” and the fear of possible future injury was insufficient to establish standing.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal in February of 2014, saying that a showing of actual harm is unnecessary for a claim of willful violations of the FCRA, and that he had properly pled causation and redressability, which is necessary for standing. Spokeo appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Solicitor General filed an amicus brief in March urging SCOTUS to reject Spokeo’s appeal after SCOTUS requested input from the federal government on the issues presented in the appeal. The Solicitor General Stated in his brief that “public dissemination of inaccurate personal information…is a form of ‘concrete harm’ that courts have traditionally acted to redress, whether or not the plaintiff can probe some further consequential injury.”
We privacy professionals have been and will continue to watch this case closely. If SCOTUS affirms the Ninth Circuit’s decision, it is anticipated that it will encourage class action litigation, and some have predicted that it will open the flood gates. If it reverses the decision, the holding will settle the case law in this area and require plaintiffs to show actual harm in order to pursue litigation. We will keep you up to speed on how the case plays out.