By Kate T. Spelman
Five months have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, where the Court held (on the one hand) that a “violation of a procedural right granted by statute can be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute injury in fact,” but also (on the other hand) that a plaintiff cannot establish standing by alleging a “bare procedural violation” because “Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.” In the intervening time period, Spokeo has been cited by almost 200 federal district courts attempting to apply the Supreme Court’s directives. However, only a handful of federal courts of appeal have waded into the fray. A review of these appellate decisions provides helpful insights into how the lower federal courts are (or should be) applying the Supreme Court’s opinion. In fact, three general rules can be gleaned from these decisions:
First, a plaintiff may have standing to sue based solely on a defendant’s failure to disclose information when such disclosure is statutorily mandated.
In Church v. Accretive Health, Inc., the Eleventh Circuit found that the plaintiff had standing to assert a claim for violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act based solely on the defendant’s alleged failure to include in its letter to the plaintiff certain disclosures required by the Act. For example, the letter did not expressly state that it was sent by a “debt collector ... attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose,” nor did it alert the plaintiff that “unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of notice, disputes the (Continued) validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector.” The plaintiffs alleged no actual damages aside from the defendant’s alleged failure to include the required disclosures. However, the court noted that, in certain instances, a plaintiff can rest on the deprivation of a Congressionally-created right to satisfy the standing inquiry. Because Congress had created “a new right—to receive the required disclosures in communications governed by the FDCPA—and a new injury—not receiving such disclosures,” the plaintiff satisfied Article III’s injury-in-fact requirement.