On April 27, 2015, The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a 9th Circuit decision in the Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins case. In so doing, the Supreme Court will likely resolve an important question of Article III standing: whether violation of a federal statute that confers a private right of action constitutes injury-in-fact for Article III standing purposes, even in the absence of alleged concrete harm.
Spokeo, Inc. (“Spokeo”) is a website that publishes certain demographic information about individuals, such as age, occupation, economic health, and wealth level. See Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., 742 F.3d 409, 410 (9th Cir. 2014). The plaintiff alleges that Spokeo adversely impacted his (and other class members’) search for employment by publishing information about him that created the false impression that he was better-educated and more financially well-off than he actually was, in violation of several sections of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Id. at 411. The Central District of California dismissed Robins’s claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that “[m]ere violation of the [FCRA] does not confer Article III standing.” See Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., No. CV10-05306 ODW (AGRx), 2011 WL 11562151, at *1 (C.D.Cal. Sept. 19, 2011). The district court reasoned that Robins’s fear that the information published on Spokeo’s website may have adversely affected his employment prospects “is speculative, attenuated and implausible” and therefore insufficient to show that he suffered an “injury in fact,” as required to show Article III standing. See id.
The 9th Circuit reversed, however, finding that violation of a statutory right is sufficient to show injury-in-fact – even absent concrete injury – where Congress created a statutory private right of action. See Spokeo, 742 F.3d at 412 (citations omitted). Where a private right of action exists, a plaintiff can satisfy the “injury-in-fact” Article III standing requirement by showing that two conditions are met:
- The plaintiff is “among the injured,” such that plaintiff alleges that his or her statutory rights have been violated; and
- The statutory right was intended to protect against “individual, rather than collective, harm.”
Id. at 413 (quoting Beaudry v. TeleCheck Servs., Inc., 579 F.3d 702, 707 (6th Cir. 2009). The 9th Circuit found that Robins met this test and therefore had Article III standing, because his “personal interests in the handling of his credit information are individualized rather than collective.” Id.
The Supreme Court’s resolution of this issue could have a wide-ranging impact for future litigation predicated on any federal statute in which Congress created a private right of action. If the 9th Circuit’s Spokeo decision is upheld, it will be sufficient for a plaintiff to allege only that a statutory right was violated for purposes of meeting the injury-in-fact Article III standing requirement. If reversed, however, a plaintiff will have to meet the added burden of alleging a plausible concrete injury-in-fact in addition to a statutory violation. LenderLaw Watch will monitor this case and report again when the Supreme Court reaches its decision.