Supreme Court Raises Bar for Fair Credit Reporting Act Claimants

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

May 26, 2016

The Supreme Court ruled in Spokeo v. Robins that a plaintiff must allege something more than a mere statutory violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to be able to pursue a federal claim.

The 6-2 decision held that a plaintiff must allege that he or she was injured in fact to be able to maintain his or her claim under FCRA. In other words, a plaintiff must prove his or her stake (or standing) in the claim, such as by providing more information about how the search engine harmed his employment prospects.

Spokeo allows users to search for information on individuals by name, email address or phone number. Thomas Robins claimed in a class action lawsuit that Spokeo displayed inaccurate information about him in a profile that the company generated, including stating that he is:

  • In his 50s;
  • Married with children;
  • Employed in a professional or technical field;
  • In the top 10% in wealth level; and
  • Holds a graduate degree.

According to Robins, none of this is true. He claimed these inaccuracies harmed him by making him appear overqualified for jobs he might otherwise have gained and expecting a higher salary than employers would be willing to pay.

Writing for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito said, "Not all inaccuracies cause harm or present any material risk of harm." Justice Alito explained that Robins needed to show he had suffered an actual injury, not something hypothetical.

The Supreme Court found that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals did not apply this actual injury standard. Because the holding addresses the ability (or standing) of the plaintiff to bring a case in federal court, the Court did not reach the merits of his FCRA claims. Accordingly, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for additional proceedings on whether an actual injury had been suffered.