The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a closely followed case involving the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”) that will have great significance on privacy law. In connection with this case, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offered a glimpse of its stance on the FCRA in an amicus brief recently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2012, the Bureau took over the enforcement reins of the FCRA from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Since then, the industry has watched for signs on how the Bureau would tackle its new job, with few clues. But in an amicus brief filed jointly with the Solicitor General in Spokeo v. Robins, the CFPB weighed in, taking a consumer-friendly position on the statute.
The dispute began when Robins claimed that Spokeo ran afoul of the FCRA. The spokeo.com site allows users to obtain information about other individuals like address, phone number, employment information, and economic data such as mortgage value and investments. Robins sued after finding incorrect information about himself on the site, alleging that Spokeo was a consumer reporting agency (CRA) under the FCRA and sold “consumer reports” but failed to comply with the various statutory requirements by neglecting to assure the maximum possible accuracy of the information reported on its site and failing to provide notice of statutory responsibilities to purchasers of its reports.
Relying on Section 1681n of the FCRA, which grants consumers a cause of action against an entity that negligently or willfully violates “any requirement imposed [under the FCRA] with respect to [that] consumer,” Robins filed a putative class action. A federal district court dismissed the suit for a lack of standing but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The federal appellate panel held that Robins sufficiently alleged an injury in fact because Congress created a right of action to enforce a statutory provision, demonstrating intent to create a statutory right.
Spokeo petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. The CFPB filed the amicus brief, siding with the plaintiff and arguing that the justices should deny the writ of certiorari. The Bureau argued to the Court that the statutorily created cause of action found in the FCRA satisfied the injury required for Article III standing. While recognizing that Congress does not have unlimited power to define the class of plaintiffs who may sue in federal court, the CFPB said the legislature “may grant individuals statutory rights that, when violated, confer standing, and the clear language of the FCRA did just that.”
“FCRA thus grants an individual consumer a statutory entitlement to be free from a CRA’s actual dissemination of inaccurate information about him when the CRA fails to employ ‘reasonable procedures’ to assure the information’s accuracy,” according to the CFPB’s brief. A CRA’s willful failure to follow reasonable procedures to ensure that an accurate report about a consumer is disseminated violates a ‘requirement imposed under [FCRA] with respect to [that] consumer.’ It is also a concrete and particularized injury to the consumer because it involves the actual, specific, and non-abstract act of disseminating information about the particular consumer.” This reading – recognizing a legally protected interest in consumer privacy – “is particularly salient in modern-day society given the proliferation of large databases and the ease and rapidity with which information about individuals can be transmitted and retransmitted across the Internet,” the CFPB added, as “public dissemination of inaccurate personal information about the plaintiff is a form of ‘concrete harm’ that courts have traditionally acted to redress, whether or not the plaintiff can prove some further consequential injury.”
Read the CFPB’s amicus brief in Spokeo v. Robins here.
Read the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit here.