__ U.S. __ (2016), 13-1339, Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

Docket Nº:13-1339
Citation:__ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 194 L.Ed.2d 635, 84 U.S.L.W. 4263
Opinion Judge:ALITO, JUSTICE
Party Name:SPOKEO, INC., PETITIONER v. THOMAS ROBINS
Attorney:Andrew J. Pincus argued the cause for petitioner. William S. Consovoy argued the cause for respondent. Malcolm L. Stewart argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court.
Judge Panel:ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOTOMAYOR, J., joined. JUSTICE THOMAS, concurring. JUSTICE GINSBURG, with whom JU...
Case Date:May 16, 2016
Court:United States Supreme Court
SUMMARY

Spokeo operates a “people search engine,” which searches a wide spectrum of databases to gather and provide personal information about individuals to various users, including prospective employers. After Robins discovered that his Spokeo-generated profile contained inaccurate information, he filed a class-action complaint alleging that the company willfully failed to comply with the Fair Credit... (see full summary)

 
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Page __

__ U.S. __ (2016)

136 S.Ct. 1540, 194 L.Ed.2d 635, 84 U.S.L.W. 4263, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 128

SPOKEO, INC., PETITIONER

v.

THOMAS ROBINS

No. 13-1339

United States Supreme Court

May 16, 2016

Argued: November 2, 2015

As Revised May 24, 2016.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

SYLLABUS

[194 L.Ed.2d 638] The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA) requires consumer reporting agencies to " follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of" consumer reports, 15 U.S.C. § 1681e(b), and imposes liability on " [a]ny person who willfully fails to comply with any requirement [of the Act] with respect to any" individual, § 1681n(a).

Petitioner Spokeo, Inc., an alleged consumer reporting agency, operates a " people search engine," which searches a wide spectrum of databases to gather and provide personal information about individuals to a variety of users, including employers wanting to evaluate prospective employees. After respondent Thomas Robins discovered that his Spokeo-generated [194 L.Ed.2d 639] profile contained inaccurate information, he filed a federal class-action complaint against Spokeo, alleging that the company willfully failed to comply with the FCRA's requirements.

The District Court dismissed Robins' complaint, holding that he had not properly pleaded injury in fact as required by Article III. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Based on Robins' allegation that " Spokeo violated his statutory rights" and the fact that Robins' " personal interests in the handling of his credit information are individualized," the court held that Robins had adequately alleged an injury in fact.

Held :

Because the Ninth Circuit failed to consider both aspects of the injury-in-fact requirement, its Article III standing analysis was incomplete. Pp. 5-11.

(a) A plaintiff invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the " irreducible constitutional minimum" of standing by demonstrating (1) an injury in fact, (2) fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-561, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351. Pp. 5-6.

(b) As relevant here, the injury-in-fact requirement requires a plaintiff to show that he or she suffered " an invasion of a legally protected interest" that is " concrete and particularized" and " actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical." Lujan, supra, at 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351. Pp. 7-11.

(1) The Ninth Circuit's injury-in-fact analysis elided the independent " concreteness" requirement. Both observations it made concerned only " particularization," i.e., the requirement that an injury " affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way," Lujan, supra, at 560, n. 1, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351, but an injury in fact must be both concrete and particularized, see, e.g., Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 573 U.S. ___, ___, 134 S.Ct. 2334, 189 L.Ed.2d 246. Concreteness is quite different from particularization and requires an injury to be " de facto," that is, to actually exist. Pp. 7-8.

(2) The Ninth Circuit also failed to address whether the alleged procedural violations entail a degree of risk sufficient to meet the concreteness requirement. A " concrete" injury need not be a " tangible" injury. See, e.g., Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460, 129 S.Ct. 1125, 172 L.Ed.2d 853. To determine whether an intangible harm constitutes injury in fact, both history and the judgment of Congress are instructive. Congress is well positioned to identify intangible harms that meet minimum Article III requirements, but a plaintiff does not automatically satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a right and purports to authorize a suit to vindicate it. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. This does not mean, however, that the risk of real harm cannot satisfy that requirement. See , e.g., Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 568 U.S. ____, 133 S.Ct. 1138, 185 L.Ed.2d 264. The violation of a procedural right granted by statute can be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute [194 L.Ed.2d 640] injury in fact; in such a case, a plaintiff need not allege any additional harm beyond the one identified by Congress, see Federal Election Comm'n v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11, 20-25, 118 S.Ct. 1777, 141 L.Ed.2d 10. This Court takes no position on the correctness of the Ninth Circuit's ultimate conclusion, but these general principles demonstrate two things: that Congress plainly sought to curb the dissemination of false information by adopting procedures designed to decrease that risk and that Robins cannot satisfy the demands of Article III by alleging a bare procedural violation. Pp. 8-11.

742 F.3d 409, vacated and remanded.

Andrew J. Pincus argued the cause for petitioner.

William S. Consovoy argued the cause for respondent.

Malcolm L. Stewart argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOTOMAYOR, J., joined.

OPINION

ALITO, JUSTICE

This case presents the question whether respondent Robins has standing to maintain an action in federal court against petitioner Spokeo under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA or Act), 84 Stat. 1127, as amended, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.

Spokeo operates a " people search engine." If an individual visits Spokeo's Web site and inputs a person's name, a phone number, or an e-mail address, Spokeo conducts a computerized search in a wide variety of databases and provides information about the subject of the search. Spokeo performed such a search for information about Robins, and some of the information it gathered and then disseminated was incorrect. When Robins learned of these inaccuracies, he filed a complaint on his own behalf and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals.

The District Court dismissed Robins' complaint for lack of standing, but a panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed. The Ninth Circuit noted, first, that Robins had alleged that " Spokeo violated his statutory rights, not just the statutory rights of other people," and, second, that " Robins's personal interests in the handling of his credit information are individualized rather than collective." 742 F.3d 409, 413 (2014). Based on these two observations, the Ninth Circuit held that Robins had adequately alleged injury in fact, a requirement for standing under Article III of the Constitution. Id., at 413-414.

This analysis was incomplete. As we have explained in our prior opinions, the injury-in-fact requirement requires a plaintiff to allege an injury that is both " concrete and particularized." Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-181, 120 S.Ct. 693, 145 L.Ed.2d 610 (2000) (emphasis added). The Ninth Circuit's analysis focused on the second characteristic (particularity), but it overlooked the first (concreteness). We therefore vacate the decision below and remand for the Ninth Circuit to consider both aspects of the injury-in-fact requirement.

[194 L.Ed.2d 641] I

The FCRA seeks to ensure " fair and accurate credit reporting." § 1681(a)(1). To achieve this end, the Act regulates the creation and the use of " consumer report[s]" 1 by " consumer reporting agenc[ies]" 2 for certain specified purposes, including credit transactions, insurance, licensing, consumer-initiated business transactions, and employment. See § § 1681a(d)(1)(A)-(C); § 1681b. Enacted long before the advent of the Internet, the FCRA applies to companies that regularly disseminate information bearing on an individual's " credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living." § 1681a(d)(1).

The FCRA imposes a host of requirements concerning the creation and use of consumer reports. As relevant here, the Act requires consumer reporting agencies to " follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of" consumer reports, § 1681e(b); to notify providers and users of consumer information of their responsibilities under the Act, § 1681e(d); to limit the circumstances in which such agencies provide consumer reports " for employment purposes," § 1681b(b)(1); and to...

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