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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

7th Circuit: CRAs not required to determine legal validity of disputed debt

Courts Appellate Seventh Circuit Credit Reporting Agency FCRA

Courts

On May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a putative class action, holding that the FCRA does not compel a consumer reporting agency (defendant) to determine the legal validity of a debt when investigating a dispute. The plaintiffs alleged that they obtained payday loans with allegedly usurious interest rates from online entities affiliated with Native American tribes. After both plaintiffs stopped making monthly payments, the lenders reported the delinquent amounts to the defendant. One of the plaintiffs disputed the accuracy of his credit report, arguing that because the loan was “illegally issued” he was not obligated to make payments. The defendant conducted an investigation and verified the furnished information was accurate. However, the defendant did not investigate whether the debt was legal. The plaintiffs filed suit, alleging two FCRA violations: (i) Section 1681e(b) which requires consumer reporting agencies “to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information” contained in credit reports; and (ii) Section 1681i(a) which “requires consumer reporting agencies to reinvestigate disputed items.” According to the plaintiffs, the defendant’s credit reports “contained ‘legally inaccurate’ information because they posted ‘legally invalid debts.’” The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to the defendant, ruling that the plaintiffs’ FCRA claims fell short because they never alleged that the information that was reported was factually inaccurate and, “until a formal adjudication invalidates the plaintiffs’ loans,” the reported information would not be factually inaccurate.

On appeal, the 7th Circuit held, among other things, that only furnishers—“such as banks, credit lenders, and collection agencies”—are required under the FCRA to correctly report liability, stating it is not the defendant’s responsibility to determine the enforceability of the debt because the “power to resolve these legal issues exceeds the competencies of consumer reporting agencies.” Moreover, the appellate court determined that the defendant cannot be liable under either of the plaintiffs’ FCRA claims if it did not report inaccurate information.

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