69.2 F
Saturday, May 27, 2023
HomeIllinois NewsFoster: The Supreme Court Finally Limits "Standing"

Foster: The Supreme Court Finally Limits “Standing”




There are dozens of federal and state laws providing for “damages” in the event of a violation. The Fair Credit Reporting Act is one of them. If a credit bureau provides inaccurate information about you to a lender or employer, theoretically, have a right to sue and get damages of  at least $100/violation. But the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to actual “cases or controversies.” In order to have a case, a plaintiff needs to have “standing” which is a legalism for damage caused by the defendant. 

Thomas Robins and his lawyer filed a class action lawsuit against Spokeo, an internet search engine which provides free  data on people , such as their age, address and occupation. Robins contends some of the information Spokeo disseminated to someone was interested in him was inaccurate, such as his age, marital status and approximate income. He wanted a federal court to certify a giant class of people who have been “damaged” by Spokeo’s supposed inaccurate data. But Mr. Robins did not suffer any actual damage. His argument was that he should be awarded the statutory $100  even if he was not harmed in any real way by the supposed inaccuracies.

The very activist and left-leaning Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco agreed with Robins. Today the Supreme Court said no by a vote of 6-2.  A plaintiff, it held, must show actual harm in order to have “standing” to file a lawsuit in federal court.  A mere procedural violation, it stated, like giving an inaccurate zip code in a credit report, can and usually is, harmless.  It ordered the case to go back to the district court where Mr. Robins and his class action lawyers will have to show he suffered some sort of damage caused by Spokeo’s alleged inaccurate report on him.  This will likely be the end of his case. 

And it should be the end of a lot of others.  There are dozens of class actions filed in which plaintiffs seek “nominal damages” for some type of misconduct which creative lawyers dress up to be civil rights, or   credit reporting, or antitrust violations.  But the violation has been technical or procedural, and the case is driven by the desire to extort attorneys’ fees.  And I say this as a plaintiffs’ lawyer handling civil RICO cases.  

Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented and would have allowed the case to proceed. The Supreme Court has one vacancy which will be filled after the election.  It will likely have two or three more in the next four years.  It is cases like this one that convince me I have to compromise my principles and vote for Donald Trump.


- Never miss a story with notifications

- Gain full access to our premium content

- Browse free from up to 5 devices at once

Latest stories