Wen Chiang succeeded on the law but failed on the facts in his Fair Credit Reporting Act claim against Verizon. In Chiang v. Verizon New England Inc., Case No. 09-1214 (lst Cir., Feb. 9, 2010), Chiang claimed that Verizon failed to investigate adequately his disputes about the telephone bill payment information it furnished to the consumer reporting agencies (“CRA”). In this case of first impression for the lst Circuit, the Court concluded that the FCRA does provide a private right of action when a furnisher of credit information fails to conduct a reasonable investigation after a CRA notifies it that a consumer disputes information it provided. 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b). In order to make out a case, a plaintiff must show:
1. The furnisher received a dispute from a CRA;
2. The furnisher’s investigation of the dispute was unreasonable; and
3. There were actual inaccuracies that the furnisher could have discovered had it conducted a reasonable investigation.
Whether an investigation is reasonable is determined by an objective standard. The plaintiff has to demonstrate some causal relationship between the furnisher’s allegedly unreasonable investigation, and its failure to discover inaccuracies in his report. Whether a furnisher’s procedures are reasonable must be determined in light of what it learned about the dispute from the CRA. The more superficial the CRA’s notice of dispute, the less of an investigation that is required of the furnisher.
In this case, Chiang presented no evidence that the procedures Verizon employed to investigate reported disputes were unreasonable. He did not even seek discovery about them. Moreover, Chiang failed to demonstrate any actual inaccuracies in the furnished information that a reasonable investigation might of discovered. Chiang’s affidavit and letters which showed that he had many disagreements with Verizon over billing did not show that any of his substantive disputes involved actual factual inaccuracies that a reasonable investigation could have uncovered. The Court stated: “To the extent that his argument reduces to the claim that any investigation that did not accept his allegations as accurate was by definition unreasonable, it failed.” Summary judgment was granted in favor of Verizon.
One side note: Although a consumer may raise his dispute about credit information directly with the furnisher of the information, he does not have a private right of action against the furnisher unless the furnisher also receives the notice from the CRA.