Court Dismisses Class Action Against Spokeo for Lack of Standing — Robins v. Spokeo

[Post by Venkat Balasubramani]

Robins v. Spokeo, 10-cv-05306 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 27, 2011)

Spokeo is a website that bills itself as an aggregator of hard-to-find information about people. Robins filed a complaint against Spokeo for violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, arguing that the “reports generated by contain inaccurate consumer information that is marketed to entities performing background checks.”

Spokeo argued that it only aggregated information provided by third parties and it was entitled to immunity under Section 230. The court doesn’t reach that question, finding that Robins lacked standing – i.e., he “failed to allege that [Spokeo] has caused him any actual or imminent harm.” Plaintiff alleged that he had trouble seeking employment and he was “concerned that the inaccuracies in his report will affect his ability to obtain credit, employment, insurance, and the like.” The court found that plaintiff’s allegations of “possible future injury” failed to satisfy Article III standing requirements and dismissed the complaint without prejudice. Although this case and the Starbucks data breach case deal with the standing issue in different contexts, the court’s conclusion on standing can be contrasted with the Ninth Circuit’s recent conclusion in the Starbucks data breach case that employees affected by a data breach have standing based on “‘generalized anxiety and stress’ as a result of [the data breach].” (“Starbucks Data Breach Plaintiffs Rebuffed by Ninth Circuit.”)

I’m guessing this complaint will be refiled and the court will have to eventually reach the issue of whether Spokeo is entitled to Section 230 protection. Will we see in action? (See “ Infects the Tenth Circuit–FTC v. Accusearch.”) Or will Spokeo be treated as a syndicator that is entitled to Section 230 protection? (“Database Publisher Gets 230 Defense–Prickett v. infoUSA.”)

On a related note: Spokeo is already dealing with complaints from privacy advocates, but as noted by Kash Hill, the blogger at PogoWasRight recently filed a complaint against Spokeo after profiles of hers that were removed from the site “came back to life.” (“Spokeo Draws Ire (and FTC Complaints) from Privacy Advocates for its Zombie Profiles.”)