Robinson v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

Decision Date16 March 2009
Docket NumberNo. 07-2100.,No. 07-2094.,No. 07-2098.,07-2094.,07-2098.,07-2100.
Citation560 F.3d 235
PartiesNicole M. ROBINSON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, Defendant-Appellant. Nicole M. Robinson, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, Defendant-Appellee. Nicole M. Robinson, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Barry Goheen, King & Spalding, LLP, Atlanta, Georgia, for Equifax Information Services, LLC. Alexander Hugo Blankingship, III, Blankingship & Associates, PC, Alexandria, Virginia, for Nicole M. Robinson.


John W. Montgomery, Jr., Montgomery & Simpson, LLLP, Richmond, Virginia, for Equifax Information Services, LLC. Thomas B. Christiano, Blankingship & Associates, PC, Alexandria, Virginia, for Nicole M. Robinson.

Before WILLIAMS, Chief Judge, and SHEDD and AGEE, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part by published opinion. Chief Judge WILLIAMS wrote the opinion, in which Judge SHEDD and Judge AGEE joined.


WILLIAMS, Chief Judge:

After discovering that a thief had stolen her identity and ruined her credit, Nicole M. Robinson sought to have Equifax Information Services, LLC ("Equifax"), a credit reporting service, correct the resulting errors in her credit report. Several years later, however, Robinson continued to experience credit problems resulting from Equifax's mishandling of her credit file. In response, Robinson brought this action against Equifax for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C.A. § 1681 et seq. (West 1998 & Supp.2008). A jury found that Equifax had violated the FCRA in numerous respects and awarded Robinson $200,000 in actual damages. The district court entered judgment in that amount and granted Robinson's request for attorney's fees in the amount of $268,652.25. On appeal, Equifax challenges the award of damages and attorney's fees. We affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.


In April 2000, Robinson discovered that a woman named Nicole Antoinette Robinson had stolen her identity and opened fraudulent accounts in her name and under her social security number. Shortly after discovering that she had been the victim of identity theft, Robinson began the process of restoring her credit history. Specifically, she filed a police report, called the Federal Trade Commission hotline and opened a case, and spent the next five months trying to correct the erroneous entries on her credit report. As a result of her efforts, by 2001 Robinson's credit report was free of all fraudulent accounts caused by the identity thief. During this same time, but unrelated to her identity theft, Robinson lost her job and was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in May 2001. Robinson was able to obtain a discharge of her debts by September 2001, but this was not the end of Robinson's financial and credit woes. Unfortunately, it was just the beginning.

For several more years, Robinson continued to experience credit problems resulting from Equifax's mishandling of her credit file. Equifax mistakenly placed Robinson's address and social security number on three credit files established by the identity thief, each of which contained derogatory credit accounts (the "identity thief's files"). Consequently, Equifax sent various creditors requesting Robinson's credit report her actual credit file along with one of the identity thief's files.

As a result of these errors, Robinson's credit problems persisted and she experienced difficulties obtaining any type of consumer credit from 2003 until 2006. For example, in October 2003, Robinson applied for a credit card for the first time since filing for bankruptcy protection. Her credit card application, however, was denied in part based on derogatory information contained in one of the identity thief's files that Equifax sent the credit card company.

In January 2004, after discovering the company's errors, Robinson contacted Equifax. The company properly combined two of Robinson's files into a single file, suppressed fraudulent information, and "cross blocked" fraudulent information so that it could not return to the file. When Equifax attempted to correct these mistakes, however, the company exacerbated matters further by placing Robinson's identification information on another one of the identity thief's files.

As a result, Robinson's credit problems continued and she was not able to obtain a home loan over the course of the next couple of years. In January 2005, Robinson tried to secure a home loan from a mortgage company, but she was turned down because Equifax sent the mortgage company one of the identity thief's files. The loan officer told Robinson that he could not give her a loan until the numerous problems in her Equifax credit report were corrected. Chagrined that Equifax had not yet corrected all of the errors in her credit report, Robinson contacted Equifax's Director of Consumer Affairs on February 9, 2005, who removed Robinson's identification from one of the identity thief's files.

Several months later, in May of 2005, yet another error occurred when Equifax, responding to a request to place a fraud alert on Robinson's account, inadvertently placed Robinson's social security number and address on another of the identity thief's files. Unaware of this most recent error, Robinson applied for another home loan in January of 2006. Yet again, Equifax sent the mortgage company her correct file along with one of the identity thief's files. Although the loan officer prepared a preapproval letter for Robinson, he could only offer her a loan on far less advantageous terms than she might have qualified for absent Equifax's still inaccurate credit report. After contacting Equifax to fix this most recent error, Robinson applied for another mortgage in July 2006. Once again, Equifax sent another one of the identity thief's files to the mortgage lender. The loan officer showed Robinson all of the derogatory accounts Equifax was reporting, and ultimately concluded that "there was no way that I could possibly help her get the loan that she was trying to get" until the derogatory accounts in her Equifax credit report were resolved. (J.A. 697.)

To make matters worse, Robinson had to spend hundreds of hours out of work trying to correct Equifax's mistakes. The stress of these problems weighed on Robinson and the physical and emotional toll she experienced was apparent to others, particularly her family and co-workers. During this period, Robinson frequently experienced headaches, sleeplessness, skin acne, upset stomach, and hair loss.

On November 22, 2006—following several years of struggling with Equifax to correct her credit report—Robinson filed this action against the company in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleging violations of the FCRA and seeking actual and punitive damages. Neither party filed a dispositive motion, and the case proceeded to trial. At the close of Robinson's case in chief, Equifax moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that Robinson had failed to present sufficient evidence to support an award of actual or punitive damages, which the district court took under advisement. Equifax renewed its motion at the close of all evidence, which the district court again took under advisement. Ultimately, the district court granted Equifax's motion with respect to punitive damages, denied the motion with respect to actual damages, and sent the case to the jury for deliberations. Following deliberations, the jury awarded Robinson $200,000 in actual damages. Thereafter, both parties filed post-trial motions—Robinson moved for an award of attorney's fees and costs, and Equifax moved for a new trial. The district court denied Equifax's motion for a new trial and issued a memorandum opinion granting Robinson approximately 90% of her fee request, in the amount of $268,652.25. This appeal followed, and we possess jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1291 (West 2006).


"Congress enacted [the] FCRA in 1970 to ensure fair and accurate credit reporting, promote efficiency in the banking system, and protect consumer privacy." Saunders v. Branch Banking & Trust Co. of Va., 526 F.3d 142, 147 (4th Cir.2008) (quoting Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47, 127 S.Ct. 2201, 2205-06, 167 L.Ed.2d 1045 (2007)). The FCRA seeks to accomplish those goals by requiring consumer credit reporting agencies to maintain "`reasonable procedures for meeting the needs of commerce for consumer credit, personnel, insurance, and other information in a manner which is fair and equitable to the consumer, with regard to the confidentiality, accuracy, relevancy, and proper utilization of such information....'" 15 U.S.C.A. § 1681(b).

The FCRA creates a private right of action allowing injured consumers to recover "any actual damages" caused by negligent violations and both actual and punitive damages for willful noncompliance. See 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1681n, 1681o. Actual damages may include economic damages, as well as damages for humiliation and mental distress. Sloane v. Equifax Info. Servs., 510 F.3d 495, 500 (4th Cir.2007). The Act further "provides that a successful plaintiff suing under the FCRA may recover reasonable attorney's fees." Id. (citing 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1681n(a)(3), 1681o(a)(2)).

Equifax contends that, despite its numerous statutory violations, the jury erred in awarding Robinson damages and the district court erred in awarding attorney's fees.1 We consider Equifax's contentions in turn.

A. Actual Damages

Equifax first argues that there was not a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found that Equifax's conduct resulted in Robinson's damages. Equifax claims that the evidence Robinson offered was based on pure speculation and conjecture, such that the district court erred in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
826 cases
  • Wood v. Credit One Bank
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • September 21, 2017
    ...of income from time spent addressing credit disputes also is a cognizable damage under the FCRA. See, e.g., Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs. , 560 F.3d 235, 241 n.2 (4th Cir. 2009) (concluding that Robinson "proffered sufficient evidence of loss of income from [approximately 300 hours] miss......
  • Personhuballah v. Alcorn
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • March 3, 2017
    ...a lodestar figure by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate." Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC , 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009). Because the parties divide their arguments on these points between Plaintiffs' third and fourth supplemental petition......
  • BMG Rights Mgmt. (US) LLC v. Cox Commc'ns, Inc., Civil No. 1:14–cv–1611
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • February 14, 2017
    ...the skills of the fee applicants and more generally with the type of work in the relevant community." Robinson v. Equifax Information Servs., LLC , 560 F.3d 235, 245 (4th Cir. 2009) ; see also Blum v. Ste n son , 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984) (stating that th......
  • Williams v. Kincaid
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • August 16, 2022
    ..."[a]bsent exceptional circumstances ... we do not consider issues raised for the first time on appeal." Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC , 560 F.3d 235, 242 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Volvo Const. Equip. N. Am. v. CLM Equip. Co. , 386 F.3d 581, 603 (4th Cir. 2004) ). Wang and Garcia have......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • Tips For Attorney’s Fee Requests In The EDVA
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • December 15, 2014
    ...standard for an award of attorneys' fees in the Fourth Circuit are the twelve factors found in Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243-44 (4th Cir. 2009), which are sometimes referred to as the "Johnson factors." The "Vienna Metro Matrix" can be helpful in establishing reas......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT