1st Circuit vacates ruling in Maine FCRA case
On February 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated a district court’s ruling that the FCRA preempts amendments to the Maine Fair Credit Reporting Act that govern how certain debts are reported to credit reporting agencies. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a trade association—whose members include the three nationwide consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs)—sued the Maine attorney general and the superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (collectively, “defendants”) for enacting the 2019 amendments, which, among other things, place restrictions on how medical debts can be reported by the CRAs and govern how CRAs must investigate debt that is allegedly a “product of ‘economic abuse.’” The trade association argued that the amendments, which attempt to regulate the contents of an individual’s consumer report, are preempted by the FCRA, and contended that language under FCRA Section 1681t(b)(1)(E) should be read to encompass all claims relating to information contained in consumer reports. The district court agreed, ruling that, as a matter of law, the amendments are preempted by § 1681t(b)(1)(E). According to the court, Congress’ language and amendments to the FCRA’s structure “reflect an affirmative choice by Congress to set ‘uniform federal standards’ regarding the information contained in consumer credit reports,” and that “[b]y seeking to exclude additional types of information” from consumer reports, the amendments “intrude upon a subject matter that Congress has recently sought to expressly preempt from state regulation.” The defendants appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the phrase “relating to information contained in consumer reports” broadly preempts all state laws, but the appellate court was not persuaded and concluded that the broad interpretation “is not the most natural reading of the statute’s syntax and structure.” The 1st Circuit found “no reason to presume that Congress intended, in providing some federal protections to consumers regarding the information contained in credit reports, to oust all opportunity for states to provide more protections, even if those protections would not otherwise be preempted as ‘inconsistent’ with the FCRA under 15 U.S.C. § 1681t(a).” In addition, the court reminded the plaintiff that “even where Congress has chosen to preempt state law, it is not ousting states of regulatory authority; state regulators have concurrent enforcement authority under the FCRA, subject to some oversight by federal regulators.” As such, the appellate court held that the FCRA did not broadly preempt the entirety of Maine’s amendments, and remanded the case back to the district court to determine the scope under which the amendments may be preempted by the FCRA.