Civil Procedure -- 2016

Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins   (U.S. Supreme Court)

Article III injury-in-fact standing requirement for statutory injuries

On July 9, 2015, the NAM and coalition associations filed a Supreme Court amicus brief urging reversal of a Ninth Circuit decision that erroneously conflates injury-in-law with injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing. This case arises from an alleged violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Spokeo published inaccurate information on its website that portrayed Robins as having more education and a higher income than was true. Robins sued under the FCRA which provides that “any person who wilfully fails to comply with [the statute’s reporting requirements] is liable to [the] consumer” for any actual damages or for statutory damages of $100 to $1,000.

A plaintiff must have standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution by demonstrating that he: (1) has suffered or is imminently threatened with a concrete and particularized ‘injury in fact’ that is (2) fairly traceable to the defendant’s action and (3) likely to be remedied by a favorable court decision. The trial court dismissed Robin’s suit for failure to establish an injury-in-fact; however, the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that violation of the statute (injury-in-law) was a sufficient injury-in-fact. The NAM’s brief argued that statutory injury-in-law is no substitute for Article III injury-in-fact because Congress does not have the ability to abrogate the Constitutional standing requirements. If injury-in-law were sufficient, the three-part requirement for standing would be collapsed to a mere single question test of whether a statutory violation (even a minute one) had occurred.

The NAM also pointed out that abandoning the Article III injury-in-fact requirement would invite abusive class action litigation in which plaintiffs’ attorneys could amass huge classes of plaintiffs, most or none of whom would have actually suffered any negative consequences as a result of the alleged FCRA violation. Accepting injury-in-law as injury-in-fact would also practically render the typical class certification analysis defunct. Such a decision would allow plaintiffs’ attorneys to hold companies liable for innocuous actions to the tune of $1,000 per plaintiff in class action suits of virtually limitless size.

The Court should read the statutory damages provision of the FCRA as just that, a substitute measure of damages when actual damages are de minimis or too difficult to determine. Supreme Court precedent requires that when a statute has more than one acceptable interpretation and one of those interpretations raises a potential Constitutional conflict, courts must construe the statute in the manner that avoids the Constitutional issue unless it is clear Congress intended such a construction.

On May 16, 2016, the Court, by a 6-2 majority in an opinion by Justice Alito, vacated and remanded the decision of the Ninth Circuit below. The Court reaffirmed that, in order to establish injury-in-fact under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff must show an invasion of a legally protected interest that is both particularized and concrete—and held that, in this particular case, an alleged violation of a statutory right, standing alone, does not meet the second of these requirements.

Related Documents:
NAM brief  (July 9, 2015)


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