Supreme Court Will Examine Article III Standing

Case: Spokeo v. Robins

Issue: Whether a plaintiff has standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to bring a private right of action seeking statutory damages when the plaintiff has suffered no injury in fact.

Case Summary: The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether a plaintiff has standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to sue for statutory violations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) despite a lack of concrete injury.

Petitioner Spokeo, Inc operates a website that aggregates data about individuals based on publicly available information. Spokeo warns its users that the information provided should not be used for purposes covered under the FCRA. Respondent Thomas Robins filed a putative class action against Spokeo alleging that the search results of his name presented inaccurate information. The results exaggerated his education and professional accomplishments, and misstated his marital status. Robins argued that the inaccurate information collected in Spokeo’s search results caused actual harm to his employment prospects.

The district court dismissed the case, holding that Robins failed to plead an injury in fact necessary to establish Article III standing. The district court held that the alleged harm to plaintiff’s employment prospects was “speculative, attenuated and implausible,” and a “mere violation of the FCRA does not confer Article III standing . . . where no injury in fact is properly pled. Otherwise, federal courts will be inundated by web surfers’ endless complaints.”

However, the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Robin’s alleged statutory violations of the FCRA was sufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement under Article III. According to the panel, the FCRA does not require proof of actual damages when a plaintiff sues for willful violations because a plaintiff’s rights can be violated without suffering actual damages. The panel relied on the Ninth Circuit’s 2010 decision in Edwards v. First American Corp., where the court held that the plaintiff adequately pled Article III standing based on an alleged violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) despite the plaintiff suffering no actual harm.
In May 2014, Spokeo filed its petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing for the Court to resolve a circuit split: the Sixth, Tenth and D.C. Circuits agree with the Ninth Circuit’s Spokeo decision that allow plaintiffs to bring a suit solely on an alleged statutory violation; the Second and Fourth Circuits disagree and held that violation of a statutory right is insufficient to establish standing; and the Eighth and Third Circuits reached varying results.

The Supreme Court granted Spokeo’s petition, but did not follow the advice of the U.S. Solicitor General who argued that the Court should not grant review.

Bottom Line: The case will be argued in the Supreme Court’s October 2015 term.

About Thomas Pinder

Thomas Pinder
Thomas Pinder is senior vice president and senior counsel for litigation in the office of ABA's general counsel.
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