Class action practitioners and consumer rights watchdogs were anxiously anticipating last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins case. The court’s 6-2 vote to vacate the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and remand the case to determine whether plaintiff Thomas Robins indeed met the legal threshold for actual injury not surprisingly elicited strong reactions on whether the decision will have a chilling effect on future consumer class cases.
There is no doubt that the Spokeo ruling is a significant one that impacts many consumer class cases. In the majority opinion, the Supreme Court raised the bar for establishing injury. Robins brought the class action against Spokeo in 2010, alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). He claimed that Spokeo violated the FCRA by failing to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of “information about his education history, current employment, wealth level and marital status published on the Spokeo website. In addition, he alleged that the publication of this inaccurate information violated the FCRA which entitled him to recover statutory damages.
The majority of the Supreme Court ruled that constitutional standing requires a “concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation”. In other words, a claimant does not have standing – court access — to pursue a procedural violation of a statute that does not cause a concrete injury. The Supreme Court found that the appellate court’s analysis was not complete. Accordingly, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will now review the case to determine if Robins’ claims are concrete and may go forward.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, attorneys and claimants will likely exercise scrutiny in determining whether claims satisfy the standing requirements articulated by Spokeo. But the ruling is not a red light for consumer class actions. Several post-Spokeo rulings have found that plaintiffs’ claims sufficiently alleged concrete injury, satisfied standing requirements and may go forward. Accordingly, we expect consumers to have continued access to the courts, to pursue claims under a host of federal consumer protection statutes like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) and the FCRA.
EP partner Seth Lehrman litigates class actions in state and federal courts in Florida, California and across the United States. He represents consumers and businesses in class action and whistleblower cases to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (954) 524-2820 during business hours on Eastern Standard Time.