Ninth Circuit Rules Plaintiff Has Article III Standing to Sue Under FCRA

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Early last week, the Ninth Circuit ruled that a plaintiff need not show actual injury to have standing in a case brought under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (“FCRA”). Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., No. 11-56843 (9th Cir. Feb. 4, 2014) (slip opinion available here). Spokeo is a “people search engine” which aggregates information from public sources such as social media accounts, telephone directories, and real estate listings. Plaintiff had filed a class action suit against Spokeo, alleging willful violations of the FCRA.

The district court had previously dismissed the case on the basis of Article III standing. However, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit panel found that the FCRA statute does not require actual harm for willful violations. The court said: “The scope of the cause of action determines the scope of the implied statutory right. When, as here, the statutory cause of action does not require proof of actual damages, a plaintiff can suffer a violation of the statutory right without suffering actual damages.” Slip op. at 8 (emphasis added, internal citations omitted). Thus, the mere allegation that Plaintiff’s statutory rights were violated, supported by a private cause of action conferred by the FCRA statute, was enough to satisfy standing requirements. The opinion also noted that Plaintiff had sufficiently pled causation and redressability, which are also requirements for standing.

Although the Spokeo ruling may be restricted to FCRA claims, its reasoning that violations of a statutory right are sufficient to confer standing has obvious implications for other statutes. It also indicates a favorable trend by courts to allow privacy class actions to proceed without requiring a plaintiff to have suffered “actual harm.”