FCRA Requires Concrete Injury For Statutory Damages
A 2016, U.S. Supreme Court case, Spokeo v. Robins, in a 6-2 vote, ruled that individuals suing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act must demonstrate “concrete” harm rather than merely allege the existence of a technical legal violation of the statute. This supports the view that simply listing the elements of a statutory claim fails to establish a valid claim.
The Spokeo ruling extends beyond FCRA litigation to a long list of other statutes used by plaintiffs to obtain substantial recoveries in class actions based on alleged technical violations that did not cause any actual harm to the named plaintiffs and class members. Robins alleged that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by not appropriately safeguarding the truthfulness and accuracy of the information in its possession.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing, ruling that the defendant’s alleged violations of the plaintiff’s FCRA statutory rights were sufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement for standing under Article III. The court further concluded that it was constitutionally permissible for Congress to treat violations of these rights as “concrete, de facto injuries” that automatically satisfy the requirement of an injury-in-fact.
In Spokeo, Justice Alito and the majority interpreted Article III standing to require “a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation” and stated that “[f]or that reason, Robins 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 court placed few limits on what would constitute a concrete injury and declared that intangible and potential future harm might still qualify as such an injury. The majority wrote that having standing to sue,” requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. … This does not mean, however, that the risk of real harm cannot satisfy the requirement of concreteness.”
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