The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform has published “Ill-Suited: Private Rights of Action and Privacy Claims,” a white paper authored by Hogan Lovells’ Mark W. Brennan, Alicia Paller, Adam Cooke, and Joseph Cavanaugh explaining why private litigation is a poor enforcement tool for privacy laws. As detailed in the paper, when it comes to privacy interests, “harms” are largely inchoate and intangible, and the wrongdoers are often unknown or unidentifiable. Even where class members may have suffered a concrete injury, the data indicates that they are unlikely to receive material compensatory or injunctive relief through private litigation. Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ counsel often walks away with millions of dollars, court dockets are unduly cluttered, and companies are forced to expend resources on baseless litigation.
The six-year fight over the type of harm a plaintiff must allege to satisfy the “injury in fact” requirement for lawsuits alleging false reporting of credit information took its latest turn this week. On Tuesday, August 15, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, on remand from the United States Supreme Court, issued its opinion- hyperlink to the opinion] in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, a highly-watched case challenging whether a plaintiff can satisfy Article III standing based solely on a technical violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Plaintiff Thomas Robins brought a putative class action for willful violations of the FCRA against Spokeo, Inc., a company that generates profiles about people based on publicly available data. Among other things, Robins averred that Spokeo published an allegedly inaccurate profile about him on its website and therefore harmed his employment prospects at a time when he was out of work. The Ninth Circuit’s three-judge panel held that the publication of materially inaccurate information about Robins sufficed as concrete injury for purposes of Article III standing, even without specific allegations of tangible harm from that publication.