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Ninth Circuit Rules Against Spokeo on FCRA Claim

Earlier this month, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiff in Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., did not need to allege actual injury to prove the existence of a willful violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA").   On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed the lower court's dismissal of the plainitff's claim and held that a violation of a consumer's statutory rights was sufficient to state a claim under the Act. 

In Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., the plaintiff, Thomas Robins ("Robins") sued Spokeo, an online company that represents itself as the go-to website to retrieve "hard-to-find" information about people, for wilfully violating the FCRA.  The claim began when Spokeo provided inaccurate information about Robins regarding his employment status, marital status, age, educational background and wealth level during a background check.  At the lower court level, Robins' suit was dismissed stating he "failed to allege that Spokeo caused him any actual or imminent harm."  Robins alleged he had trouble seeking employment and he was concerned that the inaccuracies on his report would affect his ability to obtain credit, employment or insurance in the future.  While Robins was unable to show he suffered any actual harm as a result of the inaccurate report, he asserted Spokeo committed a willful violation of the FCRA by failing to fulfill its duties under the FCRA.  The lower court stated that he failed to state a valid claim under the statute because he could not prove he suffered any real damages and a future threat of damage was insufficient.   

On the contrary, the Appellate Court found that a violation alone of the FCRA was adequate to allow Robins to file suit and that the statute does not require a plaintiff to prove he suffered any actual damages.  Spokeo also argued that it is not a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA and could not be held liable under the statute.  The Court also disagreed with this interpretation, and stated that the reports Spokeo provided were intended to be used for employment and credit verification and therefore its conduct was subject to the FCRA.   

This decision against Spokeo will more than likely be applauded by consumers nationwide, as suits dealing with data privacy have continually been dismissed for failure of the plaintiffs to prove actual damages.   Bottom line, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holds that a plaintiff can file suit under the "FCRA", even if the plaintiff cannot allege that he or she suffered actual damages.

If you are in need of assistance or advice from counsel regarding your credit report, contact SmithMarco P.C. for a completely free case review.

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