Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins, marking a win for businesses—for now.
In a prior post, we discussed Spokeo, Inc.’s (Spokeo) request to the Supreme Court to overturn the February 2014 ruling from the Ninth Circuit that revived the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) lawsuit filed against Spokeo by Thomas Robins. Robins alleged that Spokeo violated the FCRA by falsely reporting his financial, marital and educational status (for the better, we might add). He was portrayed as wealthy, married and a graduate degree recipient when in fact he was unemployed and struggling financially.
By a 6-2 vote, the Supreme Court said, “We have made it clear time and time again that an injury in fact must be both concrete and particularized… A ‘concrete’ injury must be ‘de facto;’ that is, it must actually exist.” The Supreme Court further said, “[H]arm 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. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.”
This ruling means that the case will go back down to the Ninth Circuit for determination as to whether Robins was harmed or not. The Supreme Court specifically said, “This does not mean, however that the risk of real harm cannot satisfy the requirement of concreteness.” This leaves room for lower courts to continue exploring the issue of harm in consumer litigation. And as we have seen from many cases across the country, there is no one decision in this regard. Additionally, the Supreme Court failed to provide any insight as to whether consumers can even bring a class action suit over so-called “statutory violations.” We will keep an eye on the case as it heads back to the Ninth Circuit and let you know the outcome.