On May 16, 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins that consumers who bring claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) must do more than allege a technical statutory violation to have standing to maintain an action in federal court. The Court held that Article III standing requires a “concrete injury” even in the context of a statutory violation. The decision may have sweeping relevance to a wide-variety of consumer finance laws and regulations that include private rights of action.
Spokeo, Inc. operates a people search engine that compiles consumer reports that Plaintiff Robins alleged was subject to the FCRA. Robins alleged in his class action complaint that Spokeo violated the FCRA by gathering and distributing incorrect information about him. The District Court dismissed Robins’ complaint for lack of standing, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Robins’ allegations that his statutory rights were violated and he had a personal interest in the proper handling of his credit information sufficiently met the Article III standing requirement.
The Supreme Court reversed, calling the Ninth Circuit’s analysis “incomplete.” “As we have explained in our prior opinions, the injury-in-fact requirement requires a plaintiff to allege an injury that is both ‘concrete and particularized,’” the opinion noted. The Supreme Court determined that the Ninth Circuit’s analysis failed to consider the “concreteness” element of standing.
“Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. For 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.” Writing for the six justice majority, Justice Alito wrote that not all technical statutory violations may meet the “concrete injury” requirement. “An example that comes readily to mind is an incorrect zip code. It is difficult to imagine how the dissemination of an incorrect zip code, without more, could work any concrete harm.”