Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins: the Constitution Requires Proof of Concrete Injury
By: Cullen Seltzer. This was posted Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 6-2 ruling, has fleshed out the Constitutional requirement for proving injury in a Fair Credit Reporting Act case. In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the Court held, in a boost to defendants in FCRA cases, that injuries must be both “particularized” to a plaintiff and “concrete.” Although Plaintiff Robins could meet the first prong of that test, he failed the second.
Spokeo operates a “people search engine” for biographical, professional, educational and other information about individuals. Using Spokeo, a search of Plaintiff Robins’s name reported that he is married, is in his 50’s, has children, is relatively affluent, and holds a graduate degree. According to Robins, none of that is true. He filed suit against Spokeo alleging that its publication of the inaccurate information proved both a particularized and concrete injury to him.
The Supreme Court agreed that the inaccuracies about Robins were particularized to him. It disagreed, though, that the alleged inaccuracies proved a “concrete” injury. The Court agreed that an injury could be “intangible.” Still, a “bare procedural” violation of FCRA is not a “concrete” injury. For example, a report that contained accurate information but was not accompanied by a required notice, may not be a concrete injury. Likewise, incorrectly reporting a consumer’s zip code, without more, is unlikely to work any concrete harm.
The Court concluded that “not all inaccuracies [in a credit report] cause harm or present any material risk of harm.” That admonition doomed Robins’s complaint, which was apparently bereft of any allegation of some consequence to him of Spokeo’s inaccurate report.
Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented on the ground that Spokeo’s inaccuracies could affect Robins’s “fortune in the job market” if employers found the information about him for some reason disqualifying and, they would have held, “cause[s] actual harm to [Robins’s] employment prospects.”
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