In Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held that a plaintiff had Article III standing to pursue a claim for statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), even in the absence of actual harm. The decision reversed the judgment of the district court, which had dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that the plaintiff’s mere recitation of a violation of the FCRA was not sufficient, by itself, to constitute injury in fact under Article III.
As we previously have reported, this issue – whether a plaintiff must allege actual harm in order to maintain constitutional standing – continues to make its way up to the federal circuit courts of appeal under the FCRA, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), and other federal consumer protection statutes. Robins adds to a growing number of appellate court decisions that have rejected defendants' attempts to short circuit class action lawsuits based on the argument that plaintiffs lack Article III standing. Given the Ninth Circuit’s prior decision in Edwards v. First American Corp., the RESPA case that was briefed and argued (but not decided on the merits) in the U.S. Supreme Court, the court’s decision in Robins was not surprising. Nonetheless, the case attracted significant attention, including amicus briefs in support of the defendant filed by Experian and the Consumer Data Industry Association.
An interesting side note to the court’s decision in Robins is its reliance on the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Beaudry v. TeleCheck Services, Inc. Like Robins, that decision reinstated a claim for statutory damages under the FCRA after it previously had been dismissed by the district court. Our law firm represented the defendant in Beaudry at the trial court and on appeal. Although the court’s decision in Beaudry discusses the issue of Article III standing, it was neither raised nor briefed by the parties. The defendant’s appellate brief instead argued that "actual harm" was required as a matter of statutory interpretation. Prior to the FCRA amendment that allowed claims for statutory damages, the elements of a claim under FCRA § 607(b) required a showing of injury. In Beaudry, we argued that Congress intended statutory damages to provide a remedy when damages were difficult to quantify, not to displace the requirement that a plaintiff prove injury under this particular section of the FCRA. It is unfortunate that the court’s dictum in Beaudry, which did not benefit from briefing by the parties, now finds itself as authority upon which other courts may rely.