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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

District Court: Plaintiff has standing but still dismisses FCRA case

Courts FCRA New Jersey Litigation Debt Collection Credit Report

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On January 19, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a bank’s motion to dismiss an FCRA case. According to the opinion, after plaintiff’s credit report revealed monthly payments towards previously closed accounts with defendant, plaintiff alleged that because the accounts were closed, the entire balance was due and that she had neither the right nor the obligation to pay defendant in monthly installments. Plaintiff then disputed the debt with a credit reporting agency, which forwarded the dispute to defendant, but ultimately plaintiff’s credit report was never updated to $0 monthly payments as she requested. Three days later, plaintiff filed suit alleging defendant violated the FCRA by failing to investigate the dispute and failing to direct the credit reporting agency to report the tradelines with $0 monthly payments. Although plaintiff does not assert in her complaint that her credit reports have been distributed to any potential lender, plaintiff alleged that the tradelines listed in her credit report are inaccurate and “create a misleading impression of her consumer credit file.”

In determining Article III standing, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged injury in fact because defendant’s “false and misleading reporting to a credit bureau about Plaintiff’s obligation on a debt has a close relationship to reputational harms such as defamation and common law fraud.” The court acknowledged, however, that “[l]ower courts have split on the issue of whether dissemination of a defamatory statement to a credit reporting agency, as opposed to the potential creditors at issue.” On one hand, the U.S. Supreme Court found that class members whose misleading credit reports were not disseminated to a third party did not suffer concrete harm. In another case, the Seventh Circuit concluded that plaintiffs adequately proved third-party dissemination by presenting evidence that debt collectors reported false information about them to a credit reporting agency, dismissing any interpretation precedent that would demand the plaintiffs to additionally demonstrate that the third party shared the false information. The court agreed with the latter decision, citing that “dissemination to a credit reporting agency suffices to establish defamatory publication for standing purposes.”

Although plaintiff established Article III standing, the court found that plaintiff failed to state a claim under the FCRA because she failed to allege that the tradelines issued by defendant contain inaccurate information. Furthermore, the court found that a report, as plaintiff requested, showing $0 monthly payments on the account would be more misleading, because it would purport that plaintiff does not owe a balance to defendant.