Supreme Court: Need Harm to
Assert Statutory Right in Fed Court
Thomas Robins sued Spokeo for publishing a profile of him that states “he is married, has children, is in his 50’s, has a job, is relatively affluent, and holds a graduate degree.” Robins contends all of this is false and sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681).
The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing since Robins did not allege any harm. The 9th Circuit reversed finding that the violation of his statutory right was a harm that conferred standing. The Supreme Court reversed.
In the context of this particular case, these general principles tell us two things: On the one hand, Congress plainly sought to curb the dissemination of false information by adopting procedures designed to decrease that risk. On the other hand, Robins cannot satisfy the demands of Article III by alleging a bare procedural violation. A violation of one of the FCRA’s procedural requirements may result in no harm. For example, even if a consumer reporting agency fails to provide the required notice to a user of the agency’s consumer information, that information regardless may be entirely accurate. In addition, not all inaccuracies cause harm or present any material risk of harm. An example that comes readily to mind is an incorrect zip code. It is difficult to imagine how the dissemination of an incorrect zip code, without more, could work any concrete harm.
Because the Ninth Circuit failed to fully appreciate the distinction between concreteness and particularization, its standing analysis was incomplete. It did not address the question framed by our discussion, namely, whether the particular procedural violations alleged in this case entail a degree of risk sufficient to meet the concreteness requirement. We take no position as to whether the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate conclusion—that Robins adequately alleged an injury in fact—was correct.
Spokeo v Robins, 578 U. S. ____ (2016).