On May 1, 2014, Spokeo, Inc. petitioned the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to decide a significant question regarding Article III standing applicable to numerous federal consumer protection statutes. Specifically, Spokeo asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on whether Congress can confer Article III standing to sue upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm by simply authorizing a private right of action based on the violation of a federal statute alone.
In Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., the plaintiff brought a class action against Spokeo under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The district court dismissed the case, holding that the plaintiff had failed to allege an injury-in-fact and, therefore, did not have Article III standing under the United States Constitution. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the alleged violation of the plaintiff’s statutory rights alone is sufficient to satisfy Article III’s injury-in-fact requirement, regardless of whether the plaintiff can show a separate de facto injury. Spokeo appealed this decision, arguing that to have Article III standing a plaintiff must have suffered a concrete harm separate and distinct from the violation of a statute alone.
A decision in Spokeo could have a far-ranging impact on various federal consumer protection statutes, in addition to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These consumer protection statutes have created fertile ground for class action litigation. The statutes often require compliance with very technical provisions and allow for the award of statutory damages, without a showing of actual harm. This creates the potential for very large classes of plaintiffs who have not suffered any actual injuries and who often do not even know a technical statutory violation has taken place. These large classes, coupled with the possibility of statutory damages, often create exposure in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. A decision in favor of Spokeo could dramatically curtail many of these “no concrete harm” class action lawsuits.