WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – Despite optimism from the defense side, a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to again consider a high-profile class action lawsuit is a boost to plaintiffs lawyer, a Philadelphia attorney says.
In January, the high court declined to review Spokeo v. Robins, a lawsuit that provided the opportunity for the high court to issue a key ruling in 2016. That ruling said a plaintiff must have had to suffer a concrete and particularized injury in order to have Article III standing to bring a lawsuit.
“Lower courts will continue to grapple with the interpretation of the prior decision,” Samantha L. Southall, an attorney at Philadelphia's Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, told Legal Newsline.
“There was a lot of debate among lawyers about the Spokeo decision changing the tide of things, but this swings things firmly back in favor of the plaintiffs.”
At the heart of the case is a dispute over alleged inaccuracies on a Spokeo Inc. search engine credit report that plaintiff Thomas Robins argues resulted in faulty information being reported about his education, wealth and job by the company that brands itself as the "people's search engine."
Robins maintained that such malfeasance constituted violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and argued in his class action that the repercussions caused direct damage to potential employment opportunities for himself and those similarly impacted.
The Supreme Court had previously ruled that plaintiffs must allege “some tangible or intangible concrete harm and could not rely solely on a bare procedural violation” in attempting to establish Article III standing.
In the case of the Robins’ lawsuit, however, the high court declined to apply that standard to the plaintiffs’ claims, rather dictating that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reevaluate its initial ruling in May 2016 that Robins had established standing.
The case again came before the Ninth Circuit in 2017, and again the court rendered that Robins had established standing.
That led to another appeal by Spokeo - which has always maintained that Robins didn’t suffer sufficient enough injuries for damages - and the Supreme Court’s most recent decision not to hear the case.
Spokeo claims there is "widespread confusion" in lower courts that are trying to apply the first Spokeo decision.
“In truth, the decision was less about setting a bar and more about reaffirming that the lower court must make decisions based on how concrete injuries might be,” says Patrick Doran, also of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.
"The best reading of the ruling is that the court decided it did not want to decide on the discretion of lower court.”
But even with the Supreme Court decision now in the bag, Doran speculated that the last word still hasn’t been heard on the issue.
“That’s another case bubbling right now that could soon have the Supreme Court revisiting the issue,” he said.