Archive for February, 2014

Can you file an FCRA lawsuit even if you haven’t been injured? One court says yes.

February 7, 2014 Leave a comment

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which hears appeals from federal trial courts in the far West) recently ruled that a plaintiff who did not allege any actual harm could nevertheless sue an internet company for getting certain details about him wrong.  At first glance, this might seem crazy:  how can someone who hasn’t been harmed file a lawsuit?  While the Ninth Circuit is known for the occasional, or more than occasional, crazy decision, this one is not all that unusual.

Here’s the story:  Plaintiff Thomas Robins alleged that Spokeo, an internet site that offers details about people if you search for them by name, got a number of details about him completely wrong.  He didn’t explain how that harmed him, but he did allege that it was a wilful violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Under the FCRA, plaintiffs can sue for negligent violations or willful violations of the statute.  If you prove negligent violations, you can recover actual damages plus attorney fees.  If you prove willful violations, you can recover actual damages, or statutory damges of $100 – $1000 per violation, plus punitive damages, plus attorney fees.

The statutory damages are key to the court’s decision in Robins.  The court simply said that because the law offers plaintiffs who prove willfulness money damages, even if they haven’t been otherwise harmed, a plaintiff can sue for a willful violation even if he hasn’t been otherwise harmed.

And just to prove it wasn’t crazy, the Ninth Circuit cited a case from the stable, sober Sixth Circuit, which reached the same conclusion.

Categories: willful violations