The Supreme Court yesterday morning granted Spokeo, Inc.’s petition for a writ of certiorari in the closely watched case of Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339. The case presents the question as to whether defendants can be held liable for automatic statutory penalties under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other federal statutes where the plaintiffs do not otherwise adequately allege they have suffered any actual injury from the defendant’s conduct. In particular, Spokeo has asked the Court to review the following question:
“Whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.”
As the question presented indicates, how the Court decides this issue will impact not only cases brought under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but also under other statutes that provide for automatic statutory penalties including the Video Protection Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act. The damages in these cases in the class action context can be staggering, given the number of potential class members often involved and the amount of the statutory penalties at issue—for example, up to $1,000 for each class member for an alleged willful violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Spokeo’s petition was supported by numerous amici, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Consumer Data Industry Association, as well as Google, Facebook, eBay and Yahoo. Notably, the Court called for the Solicitor General’s office to provide its views as to whether the Court should grant the petition in October 2014. The Solicitor General filed a brief in March urging the Court not to review the case. While the Solicitor General’s recommendations are typically accorded substantial deference by the Court, obviously on this occasion the Court disagreed with the Solicitor General’s position.
Given the timing for filing briefs, the Court will likely hold oral arguments on Spokeo’s petition relatively early in the Court’s 2015 term, which begins in October.