On February 13, a judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a background screening company’s motion to dismiss a putative Fair Credit Reporting Act class action on the basis of the Supreme Court’s holding in Spokeo v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016). As has been the case in the months since the Supreme Court decided Spokeo, district courts continue to apply its holding to various fact patterns, defining the contours of what constitutes a concrete injury sufficient to confer Article III standing in federal court.
In Gambles v. Sterling Infosystems, plaintiff Ralph Gambles alleges Sterling Infosystems, a consumer reporting agency, violated the FCRA when it prepared a background check for a prospective employer. Specifically, Gambles alleges the report (1) contained address history information about residences he had never lived at and that predated the report by more than seven years, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1681c; (2) incorrectly, inconsistently, or duplicatively reported the dates he had lived at those addresses, in violation of § 1681e(b); and (3) used false and derogatory terms to describe certain of those addresses, in violation of § 1681e(b). Gambles purports to represent himself and nationwide classes of similarly situated consumers. He claims the reporting at issue made him less appealing to his prospective employer and harmed his privacy interests, in addition to causing emotional harm.
Sterling moved to dismiss, arguing that even if Gambles’ allegations were true, he had not demonstrated sufficient harm to establish Article III standing in light of Spokeo. The crux of Sterling’s motion was Gambles’ acknowledgment that his report also included reportable criminal records. Sterling pointed to those records, and Gambles’ failure to tie the allegedly infringing reporting about address history to his loss of job prospects, as evidence that whatever harms he felt were the result of his criminal past, not the alleged misreporting on address history.
The court, while recognizing the attractive logic of Sterling’s position with respect to Gambles’ criminal records, nonetheless found Gambles had alleged sufficient concrete harms related to the reporting of his address history information to survive a motion to dismiss. The court found Sterling’s demand for a traditional tangible injury was misplaced because the reporting at issue was akin to the long-held common law permitting claims based on the unauthorized disclosure of a person’s private information or false or misleading adverse information. The court held Gambles’ alleged harms fell within those contours, with his claim alleging the unauthorized release of private information and the false reporting of adverse information. The court also based its holding on Congress’s creation of a substantive right to not have outdated adverse information reported, which was the harm described by Gambles. From those general maxims, the court denied Sterling’s motion, finding Gambles had adequately alleged facts showing a concrete injury for Article III standing purposes.