Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition for writ of certiorari filed in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339 (U.S. Apr. 27, 2015).
As we previously reported, the Spokeo petition poses a question with a significant impact on the future scope of consumer and workplace-related class actions: whether Congress can confer standing on a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, but who instead alleges only a statutory violation?
Supreme Court Grants Review Despite Government’s Opposition
The Supreme Court rejected the Solicitor General’s recommendation to deny certiorari or simply avoid the broader question of Congressional power and instead focus on the specifically alleged injury in Spokeo (the public dissemination of inaccurate personal information) and the specific statute at issue (the Fair Credit Reporting Act or “FCRA”), and granted certiorari regarding the broader question of congressional power.
Implications For Employers
The Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in this case is likely to have a significant impact on congressional power as well as the future of consumer, workplace, and other class actions. Although rooted in the complex arena of separation of powers between the Congress and the federal judiciary under Article III of the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s future decision is likely to have a practical impact on the viability of claims under a variety of federal statutes, including the FCRA. Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s determination is likely to answer a simpler question than the one presented: Can plaintiffs sue for the violation of a statute when they can show no actual injury or harm that they have suffered?
The Supreme Court may limit Congress’ power to create private causes of action based solely on statutory violations, and require plaintiffs to plead and establish actual injury — not just a violation of the underlying statute. Congressional power and the number of viable class actions under the FCRA and other federal statutes may be limited. This decision would likely discourage the current wave of consumer, workplace, and other class actions seeking millions in statutory damages. On the other hand, a decision allowing individual and class claims to go forward alleging only statutory damages without injury in fact would likely have the opposite outcome, resulting in claims based on alleged violations of statutory requirements, brought by individuals who suffered no adverse consequence of the identified possible violation.
Stay tuned as we monitor the developments in this case.