Spokeo Makes Last-Ditch Plea To Supreme Court

In a last-ditch plea, Spokeo is telling the Supreme Court there's an “urgent need” for it to decide whether the company must face a lawsuit stemming from allegedly inaccurate information in its database.

Spokeo says it shouldn't have to defend itself at trial in a lawsuit by Thomas Robins, a Virginia resident who says incorrect data in his Spokeo report might have hindered his job search.

Robins alleged in a 2010 lawsuit that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires credit reporting agencies to take steps to ensure the accuracy of background reports used for employment, housing and credit. That law also allows consumers to challenge information in those reports.

Spokeo allegedly disclosed inaccurate biographical information about Robins -- including that he was in his 50s, married with children, and employed in a professional or technical field.

The Web company convinced a trial judge to dismiss the case before trial on the grounds that Robins didn't couldn't point to any tangible injury caused by Spokeo's information.

Robins appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which revived the case. That court said that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act provides for private lawsuits by consumers.

Spokeo now wants the Supreme Court to take up the matter. So do Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook, who say in a friend-of-the-court brief that lawsuits like Robins' -- by people who haven't suffered tangible injuries -- are hurting their businesses.

The White House, on the other hand, says the Supreme Court shouldn't hear the case. In a brief filed last month, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that Congress specifically authorized private individuals to sue for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Spokeo is now urging the Supreme Court to disregard the White House's opinion and rule that Robins can't sue for “harmless” errors.

The company also says that the information it allegedly displayed about Robins, even if wrong, wasn't the kind of information that harmed his reputation. “Here, (Spokeo) allegedly permitted searchers to find information inaccurately stating that respondent was married with children and overstating his financial resources and education,” the company argues in supplemental papers filed last week. “None of those characteristics elicits 'hatred, contempt, or ridicule.'”

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by selling data about consumers without taking steps to make sure it was accurate. Spokeo agreed to settle the charges by paying $800,000 and revising some of its practices.

The Supreme Court is slated to consider Spokeo's request next week.

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