Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

Citation578 U.S. 330,136 S.Ct. 1540,194 L.Ed.2d 635
Decision Date16 May 2016
Docket NumberNo. 13–1339.,13–1339.
Parties SPOKEO, INC., petitioner v. Thomas ROBINS.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

578 U.S. 330
136 S.Ct. 1540
194 L.Ed.2d 635

SPOKEO, INC., petitioner
Thomas ROBINS.

No. 13–1339.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Nov. 2, 2015.
Decided May 16, 2016.

As Revised May 24, 2016.

Andrew J. Pincus, Washington, DC, for petitioner.

William S. Consovoy, Arlington, VA, for respondent.

Malcolm L. Stewart, Anthony Yang, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the respondent.

John Nadolenco, Mayer Brown LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Donald M. Falk, Mayer Brown LLP, Two Palo Alto Square, Palo Alto, CA, Andrew J. Pincus, Archis A. Parasharami, Stephen C.N. Lilley, Daniel E. Jones, Thomas P. Wolf, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, DC, for petitioner.

Jay Edelson, Rafey S. Balabanian, Ryan D. Andrews, Roger Perlstadt, Edelson PC, Chicago, IL, Michael H. Park, Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLC, New York, NY, William S. Consovoy, J. Michael Connolly, Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLC, Arlington, VA, Patrick Strawbridge, Consovoy McCarthy Park PLLC, Boston, MA, for respondent.

Justice ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.

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

136 S.Ct. 1545

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.


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 post toll-free numbers for consumers to request reports, § 1681j(a).

The Act also provides that "[a]ny person who willfully fails to comply with any requirement [of the Act] with respect to any [individual3 ] is liable to that [individual]" for, among other things, either "actual damages" or statutory damages of $100 to $1,000 per violation, costs of the action and attorney's fees, and possibly punitive damages. § 1681n(a).

136 S.Ct. 1546

Spokeo is alleged to qualify as a "consumer reporting agency" under the FCRA.4 It operates a Web site that allows users to search for information about other individuals by name, e-mail address, or phone number. In response to an inquiry submitted online, Spokeo searches a wide spectrum of databases and gathers and provides information such as the individual's address, phone number, marital status, approximate age, occupation, hobbies, finances, shopping habits, and musical preferences. App. 7, 10–11. According to Robins , Spokeo markets its services to a variety of users, including not only "employers who want to evaluate prospective employees," but also "those who want to investigate prospective romantic partners or seek other personal information." Brief for Respondent 7. Persons wishing to perform a Spokeo search need not disclose their identities, and much information is available for free.

At some point in time, someone ( Robins ' complaint does not specify who) made a Spokeo search request for information about Robins , and Spokeo trawled its sources and generated a profile. By some means not detailed in Robins ' complaint, he became aware of the contents of that profile and discovered that it contained inaccurate information. His profile, he asserts, states that he is married, has children, is in his 50's, has a job, is relatively affluent, and holds a graduate degree. App. 14. According to Robins ' complaint, all of this information is incorrect.

Robins filed a class-action complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, claiming, among other things, that Spokeo willfully failed to comply with the FCRA requirements enumerated above.

The District Court initially denied Spokeo's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, but later reconsidered and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. App. to Pet. for Cert. 23a. The court found that Robins had not "properly pled" an injury in fact, as required by Article III. Ibid.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. Relying on Circuit precedent,5 the court began by stating that "the violation of a statutory right is usually a sufficient injury in fact to confer standing." 742 F.3d, at 412. The court recognized that "the Constitution limits the power of Congress to confer standing." Id., at 413. But the court held that those limits were honored in this case because Robins alleged that " Spokeo violated his statutory rights, not just the statutory rights of other people," and because his "personal interests in the handling of his credit information are individualized rather than collective." Ibid. (emphasis in original). The court thus concluded that Robins ' "alleged violations of [his] statutory rights [were] sufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III." Id., at 413–414.

We granted certiorari. 575 U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 1892, 191 L.Ed.2d 762 (2015).



The Constitution confers limited authority on each branch of the Federal Government. It vests Congress with enumerated

136 S.Ct. 1547

"legislative Powers," Art. I, § 1 ; it confers upon the President "[t]he executive Power," Art. II, § 1, cl. 1 ; and it endows the federal courts with "[t]he judicial Power of the United States," Art. III, § 1. In order to remain faithful to this tripartite structure, the power of the Federal Judiciary may not be permitted to intrude upon the powers given to the other branches. See DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 341, 126 S.Ct. 1854, 164 L.Ed.2d 589 (2006) ; Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 559–560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992).

Although the Constitution does not fully explain what is meant by "[t]he judicial Power of the United States," Art. III, § 1, it does specify that this power extends only to "Cases" and "Controversies," Art. III, § 2. And " ‘[n]o principle is more fundamental to the judiciary's proper role in our system of government than the constitutional limitation of federal-court jurisdiction to actual cases or controversies.’ " Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818, 117 S.Ct. 2312, 138 L.Ed.2d 849 (1997).

Standing to sue is a doctrine rooted in the traditional understanding of a case or controversy. The doctrine developed in our case law to ensure that federal courts do not exceed their authority as it has been traditionally understood. See id., at 820, 117 S.Ct. 2312. The doctrine limits the category of litigants empowered to maintain a lawsuit in federal court to seek redress for a legal wrong. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 473, 102 S.Ct. 752, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982) ; Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498–499, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975). In this way, "[t]he law of Article III standing ... serves to prevent the judicial process from being used to usurp the powers of the political branches," Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 568 U.S. ––––, ––––, 133 S.Ct. 1138, 1146, 185 L.Ed.2d 264 (2013) ; Lujan, supra, at 576–577, 112 S.Ct. 2130 and confines the federal courts to a properly judicial role, see Warth, supra, at 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197.

Our cases have established that the "irreducible constitutional minimum" of standing consists of three elements. Lujan, 504 U.S., at...

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