Third Circuit Relies on Spokeo to Shed Light on What is Needed For Article III Injury-in-Fact Standing

In Long v. SEPTA, the Third Circuit considered whether and when a violation of a statute is a standing-conferring injury-in-fact satisfying the Constitution’s “case or controversy” requirement.

At issue in Long was whether the plaintiffs, who were denied employment by SEPTA when background checks disclosed disqualifying criminal histories, could sue SEPTA for failing to provide them with copies of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and copies of their background consumer reports before being denied employment, both of which are required by FCRA. The district court dismissed the complaint, stating that the plaintiffs did not allege a “concrete injury in fact,” because the alleged FCRA violations were “bare procedural violations.”

On appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim based on SEPTA’s failure to provide the plaintiffs notice of their FCRA rights. The Court held that, because the plaintiffs understood their rights well enough to bring the suit, they were not injured by SEPTA’s failure to give them notice of those rights and, therefore, lacked standing to pursue the claim.

But the Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the claim based on SEPTA’s failure to provide copies of the plaintiffs’ consumer reports. The Third Circuit applied the two tests “for whether an intangible injury can be . . . concrete” set forth in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins. The first test – a history test – required the Court to determine “whether an alleged intangible harm is closely related to a harm that has traditionally been regarded as providing a basis for a lawsuit.” The second test – a congressional test – required the Court to determine whether the “disclosure of Plaintiffs’ private information was closely related to a historical tort” such that it was “within Congress’s discretion to elevate . . . into a concrete injury.”

Applying these tests, the Third Circuit held that the plaintiffs had Article III standing to assert their claim that SEPTA failed to provide copies of their consumer reports. Specifically, the Court found that the intangible harm sought to be prevented by requiring disclosure of background reports before an adverse employment action was closely related to the harm protected by several common-law privacy torts and that the harm was substantial enough for Congress to elevate it into a judicially-redressable injury in fact.

The Long ruling provides important guidance on how courts should apply Spokeo. Further, this ruling helps shed light on what injuries can be considered “concrete” and “particular” in order to have Article III standing.

Arielle E. Katz is an Associate in the Gibbons Commercial & Criminal Litigation Department.
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