Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins
|Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins|
|Argued November 2, 2015|
Decided May 16, 2016
|Full case name||Spokeo, Inc., Petitioner v. Thomas Robins|
|Citations||578 U.S. ___ (more)|
136 S. Ct. 1540; 194 L. Ed. 2d 635
|Opinion announcement||Opinion announcement|
|Prior||Finding standing, 742 F.3d 409 (9th Cir. 2014); cert. granted, 135 S. Ct. 1892 (2015).|
|Subsequent||Finding standing, 867 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017); cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 931 (2018).|
|Because the Ninth Circuit failed to consider both the concrete and particularized aspects of the injury-in-fact requirement, its Article III standing analysis was incomplete.|
|Majority||Alito, joined by Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Kagan|
|Dissent||Ginsburg, joined by Sotomayor|
|Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.|
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court vacated and remanded a ruling by United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on the basis that the Ninth Circuit had not properly determined whether the plaintiff has suffered an "injury-in-fact" when analyzing whether he had standing to bring his case in federal court. The Court did not discuss whether "the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate conclusion — that Robins adequately alleged an injury in fact — was correct."
Spokeo, Inc. operates a .com website featuring a "people search engine" with which its users can obtain in-depth consumer reports on individual persons.:437 In 2010, a class action law firm sued Spokeo in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Thomas Robins, the named plaintiff, alleged that he was unemployed while Spokeo's profile of him falsely stated that he worked in a professional field, had a graduate degree, was a married parent, had a high level of wealth, and included a false age and profile photograph.:437 In January 2011, Judge Otis D. Wright II dismissed the initial complaint for not alleging "any actual or imminent harm" after which Robins amended his complaint to allege employment, stress and anxiety injuries.:438 In May 2011, Judge Wright found Robins had alleged a valid injury-in-fact before then reversing himself and dismissing the case for lack of standing after Spokeo filed for an appeal.:438
In February 2014, a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed Judge Wright's dismissal and remanded the case. Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, joined by Judges Susan P. Graber and Carlos Bea, reasoned that Robins had alleged injuries sufficient to establish standing because FCRA protected individual, rather than collective, rights and Robins was suing for a violation of his own statutory rights.:438 In a footnote, the Circuit explicitly found it did not need to reach Robins' additional allegations regarding injuries to his employment prospects or from anxiety.:439
The Supreme Court of the United States granted Spokeo's petition for a writ of certiorari and one-hour of oral arguments were heard on November 2, 2015, where Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Malcom Stewart appeared for the government as a friend in support of Robins.
Opinion of the Court
On May 16, 2016, the Supreme Court delivered judgment in favor of Spokeo, vacating and remanding by a vote of 6-2. Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, wrote that the circuit below had failed to establish that Robins had standing to file the lawsuit under Article Three of the United States Constitution.:439
The Court first explained that the Constitution's Case or Controversy Clause requires any plaintiff to allege an injury-in-fact that is "concrete and particularized".:439 While the Ninth Circuit identified particular harms to Robins, it erred, according to the Court, by not also determining that those harms were "concrete".:439 Although intangible harms such as risk can be concrete, the Court clarified, "bare procedural violations" cannot.:439 The Court remanded the case while taking "no position as to whether the Ninth Circuit’s ultimate conclusion— that Robins adequately alleged an injury in fact— was correct."
Justice Thomas' concurrence
Justice Clarence Thomas added a concurrence, alone.:440 He wrote separately to describe his belief that the Constitution's Case or Controversy requirement is founded upon the common law distinction between private rights and public rights as articulated by William Blackstone.
Justice Ginsburg's dissent
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.:441 Justice Ginsburg wrote that she agreed with much of the Court’s opinion but saw "no utility" in remanding the case back to the Ninth Circuit. Justice Ginsburg saw the many inaccuracies published by Spokeo as concretely harming Robins and, as such, she would have simply affirmed.:441
On August 15, 2017, the Ninth Circuit again allowed Robins' lawsuit to proceed.:894 Judge O'Scannlain, joined by the same judges as before, now found that Robins had alleged a sufficiently concrete harm to establish an injury in fact under the Constitution. Relying on an amicus curiae brief filed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in support of Robins, Judge O'Scannlain determined that publishing even flattering inaccuracies could harm a job seeker. Spokeo again petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, but this was denied.
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- Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339, 578 U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 1540, slip op. at 8-11 (2016).
- Spokeo, slip op. at 11.
- Note, The Supreme Court, 2015 Term — Leading Cases, 130 Harv. L. Rev. 437 (2016).
- Dougherty, Conor (5 April 2015). "Jay Edelson, the Class-Action Lawyer Who May Be Tech's Least Friended Man". The New York Times. p. BU1. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- Wyatt, Edward (13 June 2012). "Spokeo Is Penalized by F.T.C. in Sale of Personal Data". The New York Times. p. B2. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- "Spokeo to Pay $800,000 to Settle FTC Charges Company Allegedly Marketed Information to Employers and Recruiters in Violation of FCRA". Federal Trade Commission. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., 742 F.3d 409 (9th Cir. 2014).
- Liptak, Adam (3 November 2015). "Justices Hear Debate on Suing Companies for Seemingly Harmless Falsehoods". The New York Times. p. B3. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- The Editorial Board (1 November 2015). "Opinion: Justices Should Let an Online Privacy Case Proceed". The New York Times. p. SR10. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- "Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins". Oyez Project. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- Liptak, Adam (17 May 2016). "Supreme Court Returns False-Data Case to Appeals Panel". The New York Times. p. B3. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
- Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1550.
- Spokeo, 136 S. Ct. at 1551 (Thomas, J., concurring), citing Woolhander & Nelson, Does History Defeat Standing Doctrine?, 102 Mich. L. Rev. 689, 693 (2004).
- Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., 867 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2017).
- Note, Recent Case: Ninth Circuit Allows Fair Credit Reporting Act Class Action to Proceed Past Standing Challenge, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 894 (2018).
- Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 138 S. Ct. 931 (2018).
- Text of Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. ___ (2016) is available from: Justia Oyez (oral argument audio) Supreme Court (slip opinion)
- Case page at SCOTUSblog
- Case page at Electronic Privacy Information Center
- Case page at United States Chamber of Commerce
- Case preview from the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School
- Case preview from Vanderbilt Law Review
- Video of oral argument on remand before the Ninth Circuit at YouTube