Commentary

Web User Asks Supreme Court To Turn Away Spokeo

A Virginia resident who is suing online data company Spokeo says there's no reason for the Supreme Court to get involved in the case.

Thomas Robins filed papers this week asking the Supreme Court to let stand a decision issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Robins is entitled to proceed with his lawsuit.

Robins says in his court documents that Spokeo -- and a roster of Web companies that are supporting the data aggregator -- “have greatly exaggerated the implications of this case.”

The battle dates to 2010, when Robins alleged that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act -- a consumer protection law requiring credit reporting agencies to take steps to ensure the accuracy of background reports used for employment, housing and credit. That law also gives consumers the right to challenge information in those reports.

Robins said that Spokeo offered inaccurate biographical information about him -- including that he was in his 50s, married with children, and employed in a professional or technical field. He says that he was seeking a job when he filed suit, and worried that the errors in the report would affect his job search.

advertisement

advertisement

Spokeo convinced a trial judge to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Robins didn't allege that he suffered financial harm. Robins successfully appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which revived the case on the grounds that the Fair Credit Reporting Act provides for private lawsuits by consumers.

Spokeo now hopes the Supreme Court will reverse that decision and rule that Robins isn't entitled to sue unless he can first show tangible financial harm.

Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook agree with Spokeo. They argue in a friend-of-the-court brief filed that “no-injury” lawsuits are hurting their businesses.

But Robins counters that his lawsuit is not “no-injury.” He says he “has alleged concrete and particularized injuries -- economic, reputational, and emotional injuries caused by the publication of false information about him.”

Robins adds: “Under the law of defamation, these kinds of allegations have been enough for suits in common-law courts since the seventeenth century.”

Meanwhile, while Robins' lawsuit was making its way through the courts, the Federal Trade Commission brought a case against the company. In 2012, the FTC alleged that the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by selling data about consumers without taking steps to make sure it was accurate.

Spokeo said it was merely a data aggregator and search engine, not a reporting agency. But the company nonetheless agreed to settle the charges by paying $800,000, and by changing its business practices.

Next story loading loading..