On April 27, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking review of a hotly-debated question with potentially far-reaching implications: whether a mere violation of a federal statute, without more, satisfies the “injury-in-fact” standard required for constitutional standing under Article III. The case at issue involves a plaintiff alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); specifically, the plaintiff argued that he suffered actual harm when an online search engine, acting as a credit reporting agency (CRA), published inaccurate information about his background and character in violation of FCRA provisions requiring a CRA to ensure accuracy and provide notice regarding the information it disseminates. The district court ruled that plaintiff failed to demonstrate injury-in-fact without showing more than mere violations of the FCRA. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the violation of federal statutory rights is sufficient to show constitutional standing, and that a plaintiff need not demonstrate any actual damages in order to file suit. Notably, the Ninth Circuit did not opine that the “harm” alleged by the plaintiff – the online search engine portrayed him as wealthier and more educated than he actually was – affected him economically by impeding his employment prospects.
The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the widely-followed case has the attention of many. Ten amicus briefs have been filed over the past year, all highlighting the “substantial impact” the Court’s decision could have. Currently, numerous federal statutes allow a plaintiff to recover damages based on statutory violations without a showing of actual or concrete injury, including those prominent in the financial industry such as the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), among others. Despite the Solicitor General’s recommendation against hearing the case, in which the government argued that courts have traditionally provided redress for statutory violations alone, the Supreme Court’s decision will affect the degree to which consumers and classes can utilize federal statutes to recover without proving additional causal injury. A decision affirming the Ninth Circuit’s decision could arguably open the floodgates to “no-injury” lawsuits, coercing defendants to pay millions in damages without a showing of any actual harm. Oral arguments for the case will be heard this coming October, at the beginning of the Court’s 2015 term. Reply and supplemental briefs to the petition can be found here and here, respectively.