Tuesday, August 15, 2017
On Remand, Ninth Circuit Says Spokeo Plaintiff Has Standing
The Ninth Circuit ruled today that Thomas Robins suffered a sufficiently concrete injury to establish Article III standing in his case against the consumer data website Spokeo, Inc. The case was on remand from the Supreme Court.
The case arose when Robins learned that Spokeo published false information about his age, marital status, wealth, educational level, and profession, and published a photo of a different person. Robins claimed that the false report affected his employment prospects. He sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which authorizes consumers affected by a violation to sue, even if the consumer cannot show that the violation caused actual damages.
The Ninth Circuit previously ruled that Robins had standing, because he alleged that Spokeo violated his statutory rights under the FCRA. But the Supreme Court vacated that ruling, saying that even if Robins had statutory standing under the FCRA, he still had to show Article III standing--in particular, a concrete harm--and that the Ninth Circuit didn't engage with that question. The Court remanded the case for a determination.
The Ninth Circuit said today that Robins demonstrated a concrete harm and therefore satisfied Article III standing. The court drew on language in Spokeo that said that sometimes Congress enacts procedural rights to guard against a "risk of real harm, the violation of which may be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute injury in fact" under Article III. Congress may do this, the court explained, "[i]n some areas . . . where injuries are difficult to prove or measure." "Accordingly, while Robins may not show an injury-in-fact merely by pointing to a statutory cause of action, the Supreme Court also recognized that some statutory violations, alone, do establish concrete harm." According to the court, the test is when the congressionally conferred procedural right protects a plaintiff's concrete interests and where the procedural violation presents "a risk of real harm" to that concrete interest.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that Robins met that test. The court said that "Congress established the FCRA provisions at issue to protect consumers' concrete interests." Moreover, even though trivial (but technical) violations of the FCRA won't give rise to concrete harm under Article III (and therefore the plaintiff would need to allege more), in this case
it is clear to us that Robins's allegations relate facts that are substantially more likely to harm his concrete interests than the Supreme Court's example of an incorrect zip code. Robins specifically alleged that Spokeo falsely reported that he is married with children, that he is in his 50s, that he is employed in a professional or technical field, that he has a graduate degree, and that his wealth level is higher than it is. It does not take much imagination to understand how inaccurate reports on such a broad range of material facts about Robins's life could be deemed a real harm.
The court rejected Spokeo's argument that Robins's harm was too speculative, because Robins met the court's risk-of-real-harm standard.
The ruling means that Robins's case against Spokeo can proceed to the merits.