How The Fair Credit Reporting Act Affects You

The Supreme Court recently decided an important case that may affect your privacy rights. 

In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robbins, decided May 16, 2016, the court addressed issues under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA).  That Act requires consumer reporting agencies to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of consumer reports.”  It also imposes liability on companies who might “willfully fail to comply with any requirement under the Act.”

In this case, Robbins alleged that the website, Spokeo, which bills itself as a “people search engine,” posted a report on him.  In the report, Spokeo posted a picture purporting to be an image of Robbins that was not.  It also incorrectly reported that Robbins was in his 50s, married, employed in a professional or technical field, and that Robbins had children.  It suggested that Robbins had a graduate degree and that he had a “very strong” economic health or wealth level, placing him in the “top 10%.”

During the time that Spokeo displayed this inaccurate information, Robbins was out of work and actively seeking employment.  Robbins believed that “because of the misinformation, . . . he encountered eminent and ongoing actual harm to his employment prospects.  He argued that the Spokeo report made him appear overqualified for jobs he might have obtained and suggested that he would expect a higher salary than employers might be willing to pay.  Spokeo, obviously, denied that it had damaged Robbins. 

Much of the court’s decision involved the issue of standing.  Standing is an important legal principal that simply refers to your legal right to bring a claim.  Specifically, the court addressed the issue of whether or not Robbins had suffered a concrete injury that would have allowed him, personally, to bring the claim.  After much discussion and a concurring opinion by Justice Thomas and a dissenting opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a further determination of the issue concerning Robbins’ injury.  The court’s ultimate decision, however, is not what is most interesting about this case.

The most interesting aspect of the decision is that all of the eight Justices currently sitting on the court agreed that claims such as Robbins’ are allowed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  As such, we now have a Supreme Court opinion that makes it clear that anyone who has suffered injury as a result of a false consumer report has the right under the Act to bring a personal cause of action and recover for those damages.

In this case, had Robbins pointed to a particular job that he had lost or some other specific form of damage that he had suffered, it seems clear from the court’s language that they would have sustained and allowed his claim to proceed.  The case provides outstanding guidance, when read with the Ninth Circuit and Trial Court decisions, on the process and requirements for future claims under the Act.

In short, though Mr. Robbins did not get the result he would have liked in this case, there is good news here for other consumers who have been harmed by credit reporting agencies.  Learn more about how the Fair Credit Reporting Act protects you. For more information on claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act or other legal issues that you may face, please call our office at 855-522-5291.

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