259 F.3d 662 (7th Cir. 2001), 00-2078, Crabill v Trans Union L.L.C.

Docket Nº:00-2078
Citation:259 F.3d 662
Party Name:Jerry L. Crabill, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Trans Union, L.L.C., Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:July 30, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 662

259 F.3d 662 (7th Cir. 2001)

Jerry L. Crabill, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Trans Union, L.L.C., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 00-2078

In the United States Court of Appeals, For the Seventh Circuit

July 30, 2001

Submitted November 20, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 99-1024--Michael M. Mihm, Judge.

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Before Posner, Easterbrook, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

Posner, Circuit Judge.

Jerry Crabill, appeals from the grant of summary judgment to the defendant, credit agency Trans Union, the defendant in Crabill's suit under Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. sec.sec. 1681- 1681t, creates a federal remedy against a credit reporting agency that fails to follow "reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy" of the information contained in a consumer's credit report. sec.sec. 1681e(b), 1681o, 1681n; Henson v. CSC Credit Services, 29 F.3d 280 (7th Cir. 1994).

Jerry Crabill has a brother whose first name is John, and the similarity in names (including first initials) and the fact that their social security numbers differ by a single digit (Jerry's ends in 9, John's in 8) resulted on several occasions in Trans Union's furnishing a credit report on John when it had been requested for information on Jerry's creditworthiness, in addition to furnishing the requested report on Jerry. Denied credit several times, Jerry complained to Trans Union, which began adding at the end of its credit reports on Jerry the notation (in capital letters): "do not confuse with brother John D. Crabill."

Only one creditor who denied credit to Jerry received a report that mistakenly attributed information about John to Jerry. And he received it not from Trans Union but from a seller of credit reports who, having received separate reports on Jerry and John from Trans Union, mistakenly merged the information in the two reports into a report that it sent the creditor, who on the basis of the inaccurate report decided not to extend credit to Jerry. The inaccuracy cannot be attributed to Trans Union. Other creditors of Jerry, however, who requested a report on him also received from Trans Union John's report unsolicited, albeit with the notation quoted above. The reason is that Trans Union's computer treated requests for a credit report on Jerry as requests for a credit report on John as well. If any of these creditors missed the notation and erroneously supposed that both reports pertained to Jerry, the mistake was the creditor's. It is true that if Trans Union had programmed its computer differently, and as a result had not sent the creditors John's report along with Jerry's when only Jerry's had been requested, they could not have been confused by receiving both reports. But Trans Union defends its program, pointing out that two files with similar though not identical identifying data may actually be referring to the same person, the differences in data being the result of errors in data collection or compilation, and so it was useful for creditors to have both Crabills' files and make their own judgment of whether they were different persons. We think this is right, and that the statutory duty to maintain reasonable procedures to avoid inaccuracy does not require a credit agency to disregard the possibility that similar files refer to the same person.

Neither report contained any inaccurate information, or information that though literally correct was misleading, as in Sepulvado v. CSC Credit Services, Inc., 158 F.3d 890, 895-96 (5th Cir. 1998), or Koropoulos v. Credit Bureau, Inc., 734 F.2d 37, 39-42

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(D.C. Cir. 1984). (We have left open the question whether the statutory term "inaccurate" reaches the second type of case. Henson v. CSC Credit Services, supra, 29 F.3d at 285 n. 4.) The ensemble was potentially misleading, however, and may have triggered the statutory duty to reconsider an individual's credit report if alerted to a potential error. Although Trans Union was entitled to program its computer to select any file whose identifiers closely matched those contained in the creditor's request for information, once it learned from Jerry that the two files indeed referred to different people the statutory duty just mentioned clicked in, cf. id. at 286-87; see also Cushman v. Trans Union Corp., 115 F.3d 220, 224-25 (3d Cir. 1997), and at that point the continued sending of both files to creditors might be viewed as a failure to maintain reasonable procedures for assuring accuracy. The determination of the "reasonableness" of the defendant's procedures, like other questions concerning the application of a legal standard to given facts (notably negligence, a failure to exercise reason able care), is treated as a factual question even when the underlying facts are undisputed. It therefore cannot be resolved on summary judgment unless the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the procedures is beyond question, which it is not in this case.

Jerry has failed, however, to present evidence that any of the creditors who denied him credit after receiving a report on him and his brother from Trans Union did so because of the report on John. Without a causal relation between the violation of the statute and the loss of credit, or some other harm, a plaintiff cannot obtain an award of "actual damages," Philbin v. Trans Union Corp., 101 F.3d 957, 963 (3d Cir. 1996); Casella v. Equifax Credit Information Service, 56 F.3d 469, 473 (2d Cir. 1995); Cahlin v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 936 F.2d 1151, 1160-61 (11th Cir. 1991), which is one of the remedies under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. It does not follow that Jerry cannot obtain any other remedy, such as an injunction. Guimond v. Trans Union Credit Information Co., 45 F.3d 1329, 1333-34 (9th Cir. 1995), noting that the statute does not contain an explicit requirement of establishing injury, suggests that among the other remedies might be attorneys' fees. Jerry is seeking costs and attorneys' fees as well as damages...

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