As Judge Posner famously put it, “the realistic alternative to a class action is not 17 million individual suits, but zero individual suits, as only a lunatic or a fanatic sues for $30.” In a nutshell, that’s what is at stake next term when the Supreme Court decides Spokeo v. Robins.
The plaintiff in Spokeo sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, alleging that Spokeo’s website contained false information about him. Spokeo is a self-described “people search engine” that organizes White Pages listings, public records, and social network information. Spokeo argued that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue because he did not suffer “actual harm” from the company’s conduct; his only claim of harm was that his statutory rights were violated. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, and held that where a statutory cause of action does not require proof of damages, a plaintiff can suffer a violation of the statutory right without suffering actual damages.