In a decision that will impact a consumer’s standing to bring a claim under a number of federal statutes that allow for significant statutory penalties, such as the Video Privacy Protection Act, the Stored Communications Act, and others, the Supreme Court held in Spokeo v. Robins, 578 U.S. ___, 2016 WL 2842447 (May 16, 2016), that “Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.” Accordingly, the Court found that the plaintiff “could not, for example, allege a bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm, and satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III.”
The plaintiff had alleged that Spokeo, a “people search engine,” had violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) by including false facts about him in its search results, and brought a putative class action in the Central District of California. The district court found that Robins had not pled an injury-in-fact as required by Article III. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed, finding that the “violation of a statutory right is usually sufficient injury in fact to confer standing.”
But the Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Ninth Circuit “elided” the “concreteness” requirement of injury in fact, which requires analysis of the nature of the violation – not the bald assertion that a violation occurred. The Court explained that “[a] ‘concrete’ injury must be ‘de facto’; that is, it must actually exist. . . . When we have used the adjective ‘concrete,’ we have meant to convey the usual meaning of the term—‘real,’ and not ‘abstract.’” The Court emphasized that a plaintiff does not “automatically satisf[y] the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to sue to vindicate that right” and that a plaintiff “cannot satisfy the demands of Article III by alleging a bare procedural violation.”
The Supreme Court then remanded for determination of whether the falsities alleged in the case “entail a degree of risk” of harm “sufficient to meet the concreteness requirement.” In dicta, the Court noted that dissemination of certain false information, like an incorrect zip code, for example, would clearly not satisfy the test for a concrete injury.
The decision will be particularly impactful to class actions brought under statutes like the FCRA, as it will make class certification difficult in the absence of uniform violations that would clearly create harm.