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Robins v Spokeo, Inc.

Case No. 11-56843 (C.A. 9, Feb. 4, 2014)

We must decide whether an individual has Article III standing to sue a website’s operator under the Fair Credit Reporting Act for publishing inaccurate personal information about himself.

I



Spokeo, Inc. operates a website that provides users with information about other individuals, including contact data, marital status, age, occupation, economic health, and wealth level. Thomas Robins sued Spokeo for willful violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., related to its website. Although he asserted that Spokeo’s website contained false information about him, Robins’s allegations of injury were sparse. Spokeo moved to dismiss Robins’s original complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on the ground that Robins lacked standing sufficient under Article III of the United States Constitution.

On January 27, 2011, the district court ruled that Robins had failed to allege an injury in fact because he had not alleged “any actual or imminent harm.” The court characterized Robins’s allegations as simply “that he has been unsuccessful in seeking employment, and that he is concerned that the inaccuracies in his report will affect his ability to obtain credit, employment, insurance, and the like.” The district court noted that “[a]llegations of possible future injury do not satisfy the [standing] requirements of Art. III” and dismissed the complaint without prejudice.

Robins thereafter filed his First Amended Complaint (FAC). Similar to the original complaint, the FAC alleged willful violations of the FCRA. For example, the website allegedly described Robins as holding a graduate degree and as wealthy, both of which are alleged to be untrue. Robins, who is unemployed, described the misinformation as “caus[ing] actual harm to [his] employment prospects.” Remaining unemployed has cost Robins money as well as caused “anxiety, stress, concern, and/or worry about his diminished employment prospects.”
 

 

Judge(s): Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
Related Categories: Civil Procedure , Communications , Finance / Banking
 
Circuit Court Judge(s)
Carlos Bea
Susan Graber
Diarmuid O’Scannlain

 
Trial Court Judge(s)
Otis Wright, II

 
Plaintiff Lawyer(s) Plaintiff Law Firm(s)
Bradley Baglien Edelson LLC
Rafey Balabanian Edelson LLC
Jay Edelson Edelson LLC
Steven Woodrow Edelson LLC

 
Defendant Lawyer(s) Defendant Law Firm(s)
John Nadolenco Mayer Brown LLC
Barrett Schreiner Mayer Brown LLC
Donald Falk Mayer Brown LLP

 
Amicus Lawyer(s) Amicus Law Firm(s)
James Chareq Hudson Cook LLP
Meir Feder Jones Day

 

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Click the maroon box above for a formatted PDF of the decision.
rights of other people, so he is “among the injured.” second, on appeal, robins first argues that the law-of-the-case otis d. wright, ii, district judge, presiding limitations found in article iii.”). this constitutional limit, the fcra without showing actual harm. but the statutory that because these provisions are enforceable through a robins thereafter filed his first amended complaint to reconsider its own prior ruling. the law-of-the-case to anyconsumer is liable to that consumer in an amount equal 874, 876–77 (9th cir. 1997), we distinguished alexander in opinion by judge o’scannlain the panel held that the individual plaintiff had article iii 11 order, that robins failed to plead an injury in fact and that who is unemployed, described the misinformation as his credit information are individualized rather than appeal from the united states district court cause of action does not require a showing of actual harm odw-agr filed february 4, 2014 damages. also ruled that the injury was traceable to spokeo’s alleged 341–42 (2006). the district court also correctlyidentified the to confer standing. see lujan, 504 u.s. at 577 (refusing “[t]o circumstances in which consumer reporting agencies (cras) because standing is the only question before us, we do not intimate any under article iii. on may 11, the district court denied the “essentially” the injury-in-fact prong. see edwards, 610 f.3d and carlos t. bea, circuit judges. again, spokeo moved to dismiss for lack of subject- personal interest in living in a raciallyintegrated community” on september 19, after spokeo moved to certify an the implied statutory right. see edwards, 610 f.3d at 517 (per curiam) (noting that one “reasonable reading of the [fcra] could the interests protected by the statutory rights at issue are spokeo, inc., a california sufficient injury in fact to confer standing. see edwards v. robins v. spokeo, inc. 7 spokeo briefly responds that the fac “pleads no facts from which an a violation of the fcra. 579 f.3d at 707. the court 579 f.3d 702, 705–07 (6th cir. 2009) (ruling that the fcra fact requirement of article iii. consumer reports); id. § 1681e(d) (requiring cras to issue caused “anxiety, stress, concern, and/or worry about his standing. see daimlerchrysler corp. v. cuno, 547 u.s. 332, spokeo acted in reckless disregard of duties created by the fcra. robins this summary constitutes no part of the opinion of the court. it has reportingact for publishing inaccurate personal information interest in executive officers’ compliance with the law into an or “a company’s interest in marketing its product free from however, does not prohibit congress from “elevating to the describedspokeo’sreadingas“reasonable,” withoutactuallyruling on the lack of article iii standing, of an action alleging willful question about redressability” when a plaintiff sought “an plaintiff’s position a right to judicial relief.”); fulfillment had failed to allege an injury in fact because he had not disclaiming any such uses. cognizable injuries”). therefore, alleged violations of united states court of appeals consumers to request consumer reports). robins contends order over which it has not been divested of jurisdiction.” remaining unemployed has cost robins money as well as when a plaintiff sues for willful violations. 15 u.s.c. inc in support of the defendant-appellee. to . . . damages of not less than $100 and not more than 1 seq., related to its website. although he asserted that § 1681n had sufficiently alleged an injury in fact by alleging meir feder, jones day, new york, new york, filed the brief still require proof of actual damages but simply substitute statutory rather cases have described the standing inquiry as boiling down to violations of the fcra and that the injury was redressable the scope of the cause of action determines the scope of require proof of actual damages, a plaintiff can suffer a on january 27, 2011, the district court ruled that robins been prepared by court staff for the convenience of the reader. rights that he has standing to vindicate in court. see warth v. marital status, age, occupation, economic health, and wealth ii spokeo’s website contained false information about him, injunction and damages, either of which is an available d.c. no. situated, pled, among other things, that spokeo knew about inaccuracies in its about himself. the panel also held that law of the case did dismiss, “general factual allegations of injury resulting from any injuries pled were not traceable to spokeo’s alleged an ‘injury in fact’ that is (a) concrete and particularized and unsuccessfulin seekingemployment, andthatheis concerned servs., 528 f.3d at 619 (same). the doctrine as “wholly inapposite”). in this case, the district seldin, 422 u.s. 490, 500 (1975) (“the actual or threatened that were previously inadequate in law.” id. at 578 (majority 902, 912 (9th cir. 2011) (ruling that there was “no real circumstances where a district court seeks to reconsider an (requiring cras to post toll-free telephone numbers to allow sufficiently concrete and particularized that congress can may 11 decision. in united states v. smith, however, we 3 obtain credit, employment, insurance, and the like.” the inc. v. united parcel serv., inc., 528 f.3d 614, 619 (9th cir. plaintiff-appellant. with him on the briefs were jay edelson, the-case doctrine precluded a district court from article iii standing.4 opinion § 1681n(a) (“any person who willfully fails to comply with the defendant”; and (3) “it is likely, as opposed to merely corp., 434 f.3d 948, 952–53 (7th cir. 2006) (ruling that the than actual damages for the purpose of calculating the damage award”). at issue must protect against “individual, rather than standing.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). the district court properly recognized that it would not alleged “any actual or imminent harm.” the court 2008). second, the violation of a statutory right is usually a through a favorable court decision. a jury). instances in which a plaintiff is overcharged, we hold that november 6, 2013—pasadena, california court was not divested of jurisdiction prior to its september district court noted that “[a]llegations of possible future by that provision. second, statutes like the fcra frequently only to cases in which a submission to the jury separates the decision.” friends of the earth, inc. v. laidlaw envtl. servs., (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical”; first am. corp., 610 f.3d 514, 517 (9th cir. 2010) statutory rights. see jewel v. nat’l sec. agency, 673 f.3d violations of his statutory rights, we do not decide whether harm to his violation of the statutory right without suffering actual robins v. spokeo, inc.4 inference of willfulness might be drawn.” we disagree. “[w]illful[]” robins is in the same position. first, he alleges that opinion on the merits of this case. we do not decide, for example, c 551 u.s. 47, 57 (2007). the facts that robins pled make it plausible that measurable actual damages”); murray v. gmac mortg. inferred from the existence of a private cause of action, schreiner, mayer brown llp, los angeles, california. in standing cases that analyze statutory rights, our robins v. spokeo, inc. 5 collective, harm.” id. the beaudry court held that the best interpretation of the statutory text, is of little consequence here. we must decide whether an individual has article iii the fac indeed alleges violations of various statutory fcra “provide[s] for modest damages without proof of employment prospects or related anxiety could be sufficient injuries in notices to providers and users of information); id. § 1681j(a) doctrine prohibited the district court from revisiting its own opinion procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of” to the power of congress to confer rights of action is a direct of course, the constitution limits the power of congress counsel statutory provision “caused” the violation of a right created robins v. spokeo, inc.6 private cause of action, see id. § 1681n, they create statutory appeals to face this question. in beaudry, the sixth circuit 2 diminished employment prospects.” standing / fair credit reporting act for defendant-appellee. with him on the brief was barrett l. spokeo contends, however, that robins cannot sue under status of legallycognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries the defendant’s conduct may suffice.” lujan v. defenders of plaintiff satisfied both of these requirements. id. competition,” robins’s personal interests in the handling of for the foregoing reasons, robins adequately alleges here, because the district court had neither been divested no. 11-56843 and dismissed the complaint without prejudice. filed the brief on behalf of amicus curiae consumer data willful violations of the fcra. for example, the website see dowell v. wells fargo bank, na, 517 f.3d 1024, 1026 (8th cir. 2008) this case to the jury. thomas robins, individually and does not raise difficult constitutional questions. that our sister circuit has robins next argues that the fac sufficiently alleges matter jurisdiction on the ground that robins lacked standing injury in fact is the violation of a statutory right that we steven woodrow, edelson llc, denver, colorado, argued the injured,’ in the sense that she alleges the defendants causation and redressability. see laidlaw, 528 u.s. at causation and redressability will usually be satisfied. first, arguedthecauseforthedefendant-appellee. johnnadolenco, opinion). serious constitutional issues,” suggesting that we should adopt the information about other individuals, including contact data, reconsider its own prior ruling on standing, where the district 19 order. defendant-appellee. interlocutory appeal, the district court reconsidered its b reconsidering an evidentiary issue after a mistrial, 106 f.3d a. james chareq, hudson cook, llp, washington, d.c., plaintiff-appellant, 2:10-cv-05306- edelson, llc, chicago, illinois, and rafey s. balabanian, because we determine that robins has standing by virtue of the alleged allegedly described robins as holding a graduate degree and injury in fact, namely spokeo’s “marketing of inaccurate as wealthy, both of which are alleged to be untrue. robins, summary* consumer reporting information about” robins. the court doctrine did not limit the district court. injury”).2 (fac). similar to the original complaint, the fac alleged 180–81. where statutory rights are asserted, however, our held that the law-of-the-case doctrine does not apply “to two decisions. see smith, 389 f.3d at 949–50 (distinguishing robins’s allegations of injury were sparse. spokeo moved to identified two constitutional limitations on congressional robins v. spokeo, inc. 11 any requirement imposed under this subchapter with respect robins v. spokeo, inc.10 wildlife, 504 u.s. 555, 561 (1992). not limit the district court in its final order, and it was free to power to confer standing. first, a plaintiff “must be ‘among spokeo, inc. operates a website that provides users with violated her statutory rights.” id. second, the statutory right robins v. spokeo, inc.2 characterizedrobins’sallegations assimply“thathehasbeen industry association in support of the defendant-appellee. violations, dismissing the action. robins timely appealed. iii.”). when, as here, the statutory cause of action does not ‘individual right’ vindicable in the courts”); id. at 580 inc., 528 u.s. 167, 180–81 (2000). although more may be had reconsidered its decision only after submitting the case to that congress can so elevate. we are not the first court of “reckless disregard of statutory duty.” safeco ins. co. of am. v. burr, whether spokeo qualifies as a consumer reporting agency or whether for publication the issue before us is whether violations of statutory violations within the meaning of 15 u.s.c. § 1681n include violations in and redressability in this case.3 corporation, considered whether an fcra plaintiff suing under 15 u.s.c. a i rights created by the fcra are “concrete, de facto injuries” collective. id. (describing two “concrete, de facto injuries” injury do not satisfy the [standing] requirements of art. iii” article iii standing and that the may 11 ruling was correct.1 creation of a private cause of action to enforce a statutory rests properly can be understood as granting persons in the the panel reversed the district court’s dismissal, based on of jurisdiction nor submitted this case to the jury, it was free alexander on the ground that the district court in that case violations of the fair credit reporting act. contrary reading, which the eighth circuit has described as “reasonable.” reversed and remanded. id. § 1681e(b) (requiring cras to “follow reasonable robins’s statutoryrights are sufficient to satisfythe injury-in- mayer brown llc, los angeles, california, filed the brief provide for monetarydamages, which redress the violation of spokeo actually violated the fcra. “caus[ing] actual harm to [his] employment prospects.” argued and submitted about himself. (2) “the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of judgment) (“the court’s holding that there is an outer limit injury required by art[icle] iii may exist solely by virtue of robins v. spokeo, inc. 9 provision implies that congress intended the enforceable we are not persuaded. as we explain below, our reading of the fcra level. thomas robins sued spokeo for willful violations of the constitutional or statutory provision on which the claim robins v. spokeo, inc. 3 plaintiff has established an injury sufficient to satisfy article permit congress to convert the undifferentiated public v. donald m. falk, mayer brown llp, palo alto, california, elevate them. lujan, 504 u.s. at 578. like “an individual’s smith and do so again here. the rule from alexander applies o’scannlain, circuit judge: dismiss robins’soriginalcomplaintforlackofsubject-matter spokeo violated his statutory rights, not just the statutory reports and marketed itsreportsforpurposescovered bythe fcradespite on behalf of amicus curiae experian information solutions, provisions. see 15 u.s.c. § 1681b(b)(1) (listing the edelson llc, chicago, illinois. the cause for the plaintiff-appellant. bradley m. baglien, and necessary consequence of the case and controversy “permits a recovery when there are no identifiable or spokeo urges that such interpretation of the fcra “would raise three components of standing: (1) the plaintiff “has suffered $1,000 . . . .”); see also beaudry v. telecheck servs., inc., iv standing to sue a website’s operator under the fair credit required at later stages of the litigation, on a motion to (“because the statutory text does not limit liability to standing to sue a website’s operator under the fair credit at 517; fulfillment servs., 528 f.3d at 618–19. when the precedent establishes two propositions. first, congress’s fact. robins v. spokeo, inc.8 although united states v. alexander held that the law-of- (kennedy, j., concurring in part and concurring in the * (“essentially, the standing question in such cases is whether previous ruling on standing. it then ruled, contraryto its may have subject-matter jurisdiction if robins did not have 4 sufficient under article iii of the united states constitution. may provide “consumer reports for employment purposes”); speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable before: diarmuid f. o’scannlain, susan p. graber, remedy”). therefore, robins has adequately pled causation iii for the central district of california provision to create a statutory right. see fulfillment servs. 389 f.3d 944, 949 (9th cir. 2004) (per curiam) (describing motion and concluded that robins had alleged a sufficient that the inaccuracies in his report will affect his ability to on behalf of all others similarly edelson llc, chicago, illinois, filed the briefs for the statutes creating legal rights, the invasion of which creates reporting act for publishing inaccuratepersonal information in addition to injury in fact, of course, standing requires that congress could “elevat[e] to the status of legally there is little doubt that a defendant’s alleged violation of a court had neither been divested of jurisdiction nor submitted jurisdiction on the ground that robins lacked standing for the ninth circuit the fair credit reporting act (fcra), 15 u.s.c. § 1681 et


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