Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ()

SACRAMENTO — A man who claims the data aggregation website Spokeo posted incorrect information about him does not have to prove he suffered tangible, economic harm to pursue damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held Tuesday.

A three-judge panel reversed a decision by Judge Otis Wright of the Central District of California that found Thomas Robins failed to establish Article III standing under the injury-in-fact prong. Robins claimed that he suffered “anxiety, stress, concern, and/or worry about his diminished employment prospects” because Spokeo overstated his wealth and level of education.

“Spokeo contends … that Robins cannot sue under the FCRA without showing actual harm,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote. “But the statutory cause of action does not require a showing of actual harm when a plaintiff sues for willful violations.”

O’Scannlain was joined in the 10-page opinion by Judges Susan Graber and Carlos Bea.

“This is a big decision,” said Robins’ attorney, Edelson partner Steven Woodrow. “It gives people wronged under the Fair Credit Reporting Act their day in court.”

The ruling is the latest by the Ninth Circuit holding that an alleged violation of a law providing statutory damages doesn’t require proof of actual injury. In its opinion Monday, the panel cited First American Financial Corp. v. Edwards, the 2010 decision by the Ninth Circuit finding that Article III can be satisfied “solely by virtue of ‘statutes creating legal rights, the invasion of which creates standing.’”

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Edwards in 2011, leading some observers to suggest the justices would more narrowly define what constituted injuries under Article III. But in June 2012 the high court dismissed the case as “improvidently granted,” letting the Ninth Circuit’s ruling stand.

“I don’t find the [panel's] decision that remarkable,” said Duane Morris partner Richard Seabolt. “It seems to me it falls from earlier Ninth Circuit case law, particularly Edwards.”

Seabolt also questioned whether the plaintiffs in Robins v. Spokeo will ever be certified as a class “because individual issues are likely to predominate.”

Eric Goldman, director of Santa Clara University School of Law’s High Tech Law Institute, said that while the panel’s decision draws “a pretty clear line about the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” it also alerts trial courts to use “a light touch” when considering any motion to dismiss statutory complaints on Article III grounds.

“I think that the general prevailing understanding of the Ninth Circuit is that allegations of statutory violations automatically satisfy Article III standing,” he said.

Spokeo was represented by attorneys from Mayer Brown. Partner Donald Falk, who argued the case, did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.