Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, American consumers must show proof of a “concrete and particularized injury” if they wish to recover damages for creditors’ and debt collectors’ violations of state and federal law(s). This means that those injured by unfair debt collection practices or unfair credit reporting practices cannot simply prove, without more, that an alleged creditor violated a specific statute or legal requirement.
But what is a concrete and particularized injury, and can you determine if you have suffered one?
According to the Spokeo decision, the Court explained that in order to have standing, or the legal right, to file a lawsuit, a plaintiff must demonstrate a concrete and particularized injury. To be concrete, the injury must be “real,” as opposed to abstract. And to be particularized, the injury must have affected you in an individualized or personal way.
Furthermore, a concrete injury can either be tangible or intangible, but it must have an actual effect. For instance, assume your creditor sued another woman for your debt. Clearly, the woman has suffered tangible harm because she must now expend time and money hiring a lawyer to fight the case.
Conversely, now assume that the credit bureaus reported an error on that woman’s credit report, leading to a reduction in her score to the tune of 250 points. As a result, lenders have declined to issue her a credit card or approve her for an auto loan. Although the woman has not lost any money due to the error, she has still suffered a concrete and particularized injury within the meaning of the law.
In the Spokeo case, the defendant operated a people search website on the internet. The site is similar to those that come up when you search a person’s name in the Google search bar. The webpage result for the plaintiff’s name included inaccurate information as to the plaintiff’s age, income, and marital status. The plaintiff claimed that these inaccuracies violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Congress passed the FCRA to prevent the accumulation and dissemination of flawed or inaccurate information affecting a person’s credit score or history. Accordingly, the plaintiff claimed that he was entitled to damages due to the mere fact that his information was inaccurate, though he could not and did not show any injury resulting from these inaccuracies. However, the Supreme Court disagreed, and found that the Constitution affirmatively requires plaintiffs to plead a concrete and particularized injury in order to recover damages. Simply alleging a violation of some statute, even if the violation occurred, is inadequate.
Though the Spokeo case seems to put consumers at a disadvantage, this may not be the case. When deciding what constitutes a concrete and particularized injury, California courts applying the Spokeo decision have found compensable injuries other than just those resulting in financial losses. If you can demonstrate that your rights have been violated, whether by harassing communications, inaccurate credit reporting, or other violations, You should still be entitled to your day in court!
If you believe that you are the victim of debt collector harassment, inaccurate credit reports, or any other violation of California or federal consumer protection legislation, you should contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible. At Fitzgerald Campbell, our attorneys have decades of experience successfully representing clients against collection claims and all other types of consumer defense matters, and we are here to help you!