Access to Justice

Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the Supreme Court considered whether Congress had the power under the Constitution to provide individuals a right to sue for damages to vindicate individual rights protected by federal law.

Case Summary

Thomas Robins sued petitioner Spokeo, Inc. pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act for disseminating false credit information about him. Although the Act explicitly gives a consumer the right to sue for damages to enforce the Act’s prohibitions, Spokeo argued that the lawsuit was not a “case” within the meaning of Article III of the Constitution. The district court dismissed Mr. Robins’s Complaint, holding that Robins did not have Article III standing as he had not suffered “any actual or imminent harm.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, holding that Robins could sue to vindicate his individual rights protected by federal law. Spokeo filed a petition for a writ of certioriari with the Supreme Court, which was granted on April 27, 2015.

On September 8, 2015, Constitutional Accountability Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Mr. Robins, which argued that Robins plainly has the right to seek redress in federal court for the violation of his legal rights under the FCRA. Our brief laid out the text and history of Article III, demonstrating that the Framers wrote Article III to create a federal judiciary vested with a power to enforce federal legal rights that is coextensive with the legislature’s power to create them, ensuring that federal statutory protections could be enforced by the federal courts. Article III ensures that where there is a legal right, there is also a legal remedy, giving individuals the right to go to court to vindicate their legal rights. As our brief argued, when Congress has created a damages remedy to redress concrete personal violations of federal legal rights, as it did in the FCRA, and an individual has claimed that those rights have been violated, there is plainly a case within the original meaning of Article III.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 2, 2015. On May 16, 2016, the Court ruled in a 6-2 opinion written by Justice Alito that the Ninth Circuit’s standing analysis was incomplete due to its failure to consider both the particularization and the concreteness aspects of the injury-in-fact requirement. The Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration consistent with the Court’s opinion. While the ruling put off a final decision in the case for the time being, each of the Justice’s opinions affirmed, in important ways, that Congress has the power to ensure that consumers can seek redress in court when companies violate their federal legal rights, making clear why Robins should ultimately get his day in court.

Case Timeline

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