Faculty Blog, Federal Courts, New England Law Review, Singer, U.S. Supreme Court

Faculty Blog: Spokeo v. Robins: Two Challenges to Identity

Even in the age of social media and internet searches, in which our public and private lives are increasingly (and often voluntarily) blurred, there is still something jarring about learning that your identity has been misrepresented or misconstrued. For Thomas Robins, that moment came when Spokeo, Inc., a “people search engine,” assembled an online profile of him that contained an array of incorrect information, including inaccurate statements of his age, family status, wealth, and education. Robins responded by filing a class action complaint against Spokeo in federal district court, alleging that Spokeo’s willful failure to check the accuracy of his personal information entitled him to statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970 (FCRA). The district court originally dismissed the case for lack of standing, finding that while the FCRA conferred a private right of action against reporting agencies like Spokeo that failed to comply with the Act’s statutory requirements, Robins himself had not suffered an “injury in fact.” In particular, Robins could not point to any concrete harm he had suffered as a result of the incorrect reporting. The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the FCRA had conferred a right upon Robins to be free from false reporting, and that Robins had sufficiently alleged that Spokeo had violated his individual statutory rights by misreporting information. But on May 16, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s opinion by a 6-2 vote, and remanded the case for further proceedings.