This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a potentially landmark ruling in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (No. 13-3339), a case filed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (the “FCRA”) but expected to have much wider implications, including for Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) lawsuits.
Could Spokeo help defendants in TCPA lawsuits?
Spokeo Profile and FCRA Lawsuit
Spokeo, a “people search engine,” allows users to conduct a computerized search of an individual’s personal and contact information. The plaintiff, alleging his Spokeo-generated profile contained inaccurate credit information, sued Spokeo, claiming that the company had violated the FCRA.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California initially dismissed the complaint, holding that the plaintiff had failed to plead an injury in fact. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding the allegations that Spokeo had violated his statutory rights sufficient to establish the plaintiff’s standing to bring the lawsuit. Spokeo appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court (the “SCOTUS”).
Supreme Court’s Spokeo Decision
This week, SCOTUS reversed again, reaffirming the longstanding principle that standing in federal courts requires a “concrete” injury, even in the context of a statutory violation. The Court stressed that allegations of “bare procedural violations” are not enough to establish federal court standing in the absence of allegations of actual harm, whether or not such harm is tangible.
Implications for TCPA Lawsuits
The TCPA – a federal consumer protection law like the FCRA – prohibits sellers and telemarketers from making/sending certain phone calls and/or text messages to a consumer without obtaining the consumer’s prior express consent. Both statutes allow consumers to bring private actions against businesses that violate certain statutory provisions and, if successful, to collect either actual or statutory damages.
Since SCOTUS agreed to hear the case, Defendants in TCPA lawsuits across the country have referenced Spokeo to challenge the standing of TCPA plaintiffs. Judges had stayed a number of these actions pending SCOTUS’ determination of the issues regarding federal court standing presented by Spokeo.
Sellers, telemarketers and text message marketers involved in TCPA lawsuits should consider whether this week’s Spokeo decision benefits their respective cases, as it may offer another possible defense to companies faced with a TCPA action, in addition to the many otherwise available. It is important to note that the standing defense must be raised in the initial stages of litigation. As such, if a business is served with a TCPA complaint, or is otherwise threatened with a lawsuit, it is critical to speak with an experienced telemarketing lawyer as soon as possible to determine whether the Spokeo ruling can help its TCPA defense.