On December 5, a Court of Appeals for the state of Ohio affirmed dismissal of a putative FCRA class claim against Ohio State University on the basis that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their no-injury, statutory claim in Ohio state court. The state appellate court declined to adopt a “statutory standing” doctrine in Ohio that would allow standing for a federal statutory claim without the existence of an alleged injury-in-fact.

Background

In 2012 and 2014, OSU hired the plaintiffs as a facility manager and a housekeeper. In October 2015, the plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of a class of others similarly situated, filed suit against OSU under the FCRA. They alleged that as part of their application and hiring process, OSU provided a background check disclosure and authorization to each of them that improperly included extraneous information and a liability release in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681b(b)(2)(A)(ii).

The following month, OSU removed the action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, based on federal question jurisdiction. In June 2016, the federal court found that appellants failed to allege that they sustained any injury-in-fact due to OSU’s alleged violations of the FCRA, and that they therefore lacked standing under Article III of the United States Constitution. Consequently, the federal court remanded the matter to the Ohio trial court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1447(c).

In July 2016, OSU moved to dismiss the action in the Ohio trial court based on its contention that the appellants lacked standing to bring their claims in Ohio state court because they alleged no injury-in-fact resulting from violations of the FCRA. In response, the appellants argued that Ohio law recognizes standing even in the absence of an injury-in-fact, when that standing is conferred by statute. In February 2017, the Ohio trial court dismissed the appellants’ claims against OSU based on its conclusion that they failed to plead any particularized injury-in-fact and lacked statutory standing to pursue their claims in the absence of a cognizable injury. The plaintiffs appealed.

Appellate Ruling

Noting the instructive ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Spokeo, the Court of Appeals of Ohio stated that the plaintiffs were relying on a concept of “statutory standing” that, according to the plaintiffs, provided standing to sue for a statutory violation “even in the absence of an alleged injury-in-fact.” The appellate court nevertheless disagreed with that argument, adding:

Ohio and federal law have diverged on the issue of whether a party may have standing to sue in the absence of an injury-in-fact. However, even though Ohio courts have, in some circumstances, found standing despite no allegation of concrete injury, appellants fail to cite, and our independent research does not reveal, any case in which an Ohio court has analyzed and found standing to exist on the basis of a federal statute despite the absence of an alleged injury-in-fact.

Ultimately, “[t]o the extent the ‘statutory standing’ doctrine constitutes an exception to the traditional principles of standing in Ohio,” the Ohio appellate court declined “to extend that exception to this circumstance involving the application of a federal statute.”

To find statutory standing here, the court said that it “would need to find that Congress intended to abrogate the Ohio common-law requirements to establish standing.” Yet, “there [was] no indication that Congress intended the pertinent FCRA statute to supplant the traditional requirements of standing in Ohio state court. Further, such a finding would be improper as it would permit Congress to affect the parameters of standing in Ohio courts, even though it is well-settled that Ohio law determines standing in Ohio courts.”

Troutman Sanders will continue to monitor these developments, especially as they relate to Spokeo and its progeny, and provide any further updates as they are available.