On May 11, 2011, in Thomas Robins v. Spokeo, Inc., the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted in part and denied in part defendant Spokeo, Inc.’s motion to dismiss claims that it violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). The ruling allows the plaintiff to continue his action against Spokeo, a website that aggregates data about individuals from both online and offline sources.
After the court dismissed the plaintiff’s original complaint against Spokeo for lack of standing, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint alleging violations of federal and state law. Notably, the plaintiff claimed that Spokeo violated the FCRA by generating reports through Spokeo.com that contained inaccurate information about him, and marketing those reports to entities that perform background checks, including HR professionals and potential employers.
Spokeo moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The court found that the plaintiff had alleged an injury in fact that was fairly traceable to Spokeo’s conduct, and thus declined to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds.
Addressing the plaintiff’s claims, Spokeo argued that (1) it was not a consumer reporting agency under the FCRA; (2) it was immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”); and (3) the plaintiff’s claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) was not valid because it depended exclusively on FCRA claims and because the plaintiff did not allege specific monetary or property losses caused by Spokeo’s conduct.
With respect to Spokeo’s first argument, the court found that the plaintiff created a “plausible inference” that Spokeo was a consumer reporting agency subject to the FCRA by demonstrating that Spokeo regularly accepts money in exchange for reports that “contain data and evaluations regarding consumers’ economic wealth and creditworthiness.” Similarly, the court found that it would be premature to dismiss the plaintiff’s CDA claim because the question of Spokeo’s possible immunity under the CDA was unresolved. But the court rejected the plaintiff’s UCL claim as conclusory, stating that he had not provided sufficient facts to allege economic injury or harm to his employment prospects. Accordingly, the plaintiff could not bring a private right of action as a person who has suffered injury in fact or lost money as a result of unfair competition, and that claim was dismissed.