District Court Erred in Dismissing Class Action Complaint Alleging Violations of Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) on Ground that Plaintiff had not Suffered any Actual Injury because FCRA Allows for Recovery of Statutory Damages for Willful Violations Without Showing of Actual Injury Sixth Circuit Holds
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Telecheck Services and others alleging violations of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); specifically, the class action complaint alleged that defendants – “a group of foreign corporations who provide check-verification services” – “failed to account for a 2002 change in the numbering used by the Tennessee driver’s license system, leading their systems to reflect incorrectly that many Tennessee consumers…were first-time check-writers.” Beaudry v. Telecheck, ___ F.3d ___ (6th Cir. August 28, 2009) [Slip Opn., at 1, 2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, defendants’ actions constituted a “willful failure to provide accurate information [and] entitled the class members to ‘declaratory relief, injunctive relief, statutory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.’” Id., at 2. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action complaint on the grounds that (1) plaintiff “failed to allege that she had been injured by a FCRA violation,” and (2) “that the statute of limitations had run.” Id. The district court dismissed the class action , holding that plaintiff “had not alleged any injury and that the statute does not authorize courts to grant injunctive relief.” Id. Plaintiff appealed. The Sixth Circuit stated at page 1, “Because FCRA’s private right of action does not require proof of actual damages as a prerequisite to the recovery of statutory damages for a willful violation of the Act, we reverse.”
The Circuit Court began by summarizing the FCRA, and the differences between negligent violations of the FCRA and willful violations of the FCRA. See Beaudry, at 2-3. Of particular relevance is the fact that willful violations allow a party to recovery statutory damages without showing actual injury. Id., at 4-5. Defense attorneys nonetheless argued that the FCRA requires a showing of some form of “consequential damages” – in this case, however, plaintiff “‘has not…had a check rejected or any other transaction terminated as a result of a TeleCheck recommendation’; nor has she ‘suffered any harm with respect to the availability of credit.’” Id., at 4. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, noting that the FCRA “imposes no such hurdle on willfulness claimants.” Id. Rather, the FCRA allows for the recovery of either actual damages (in the event the violation was negligent) or statutory damages as fixed by Congress (in the event the violation was willful). Id., at 5-6. Accordingly, the district court erred in dismissing the class action complaint on the ground that plaintiff had not suffered any actual injury, id., at 9. The Circuit Court therefore reversed the district court order and remanded the class action for further proceedings. Id., at 10.
NOTE: The Sixth Circuit did not address the alternative ground for the court’s ruling – viz., that the FCRA does not authorize injunctive relief – because “defendants did not seek to dismiss the claim on this ground.” Beaudry, at 9.