On March 10, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. (OOIDA) filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, outlining the damage caused to truckers by inaccurate and misleading reporting, emphasizing the importance of being able to hold consumer reporting agencies liable for inaccurate employment histories before they apply for a driving job, and the importance of class action litigation to protecting truckers’ rights when the amount of the potential recovery is too small to justify an individual lawsuit.
The case under review at the Supreme Court
In December 2020, the Supreme Court granted review of a class action money judgment out of the Ninth Circuit wherein an individual sued, on behalf of himself and 8,184 other individuals, the credit reporting agency TransUnion LLC. The plaintiff, Ramirez, had attempted to finance the purchase of a car, but the credit report TransUnion provided to the dealership incorrectly noted that Ramirez was a potential terrorist on the federal government’s list of national security threats. Ramirez was therefore unable to purchase the car and later canceled an international trip. After Ramirez contacted TransUnion to rectify his records, TransUnion sent him two separate mailings regarding his credit report.
Ramirez sued TransUnion, claiming that TransUnion’s inclusion of the security notation in his and thousands of other credit files violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (FCRA), requirement that reporting agencies use reasonable procedures to maximize reporting accuracy. Ramirez noted that TransUnion had not demonstrated that even one of the 8,185 people it labeled a potential terrorist was, in fact, on the security list. He also alleged that the mailers sent to him and the other class members were confusing and violated FCRA notice procedures. He alleged that because TransUnion was aware of its accuracy issues, these violations were willful, opening the door to statutory damages of $100 to $1,000.
After the class was certified, the case was tried to a jury, who awarded roughly $984 in statutory damages to each of the 8,185 class members and another $6,000 per class member in punitive damages. TransUnion appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, but the court affirmed most of the decision (it reduced the punitive damages award). TransUnion then petitioned the Supreme Court for review.
TransUnion’s request for review was based primarily on the fact that the class members (other than Ramirez) did not suffer any tangible injury from the inaccurate records. TransUnion argued that until a false report is actually sent to a third party and the affected individual suffers some negative consequence, like the loss of a job or denial of a loan, an individual hasn’t been injured sufficient to satisfy constitutional standards that would entitle them to bring a lawsuit in federal court. Thus, none of the class members other than Ramirez were entitled to bring their claims (or collect damages).
Ramirez argued, and the Ninth Circuit held, that these FCRA injuries occurred when TransUnion violated the statute, because it put all class members at risk that their inaccurate credit reports could be sent to third parties at a moment’s notice. The risk of harm satisfied constitutional injury requirements.
OOIDA’s description of the impact of reporting on truckers
OOIDA filed an amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) brief supporting Ramirez and the Ninth Circuit’s decision. OOIDA’s brief detailed just how devastating negative reporting can be for truckers. OOIDA explained, for example, that carriers often refuse to hire drivers based on a single safety violation as a matter of course, simply to avoid potential liability issues in the future. And drivers who know their reports contain inaccurate information must decide between delaying job prospects indefinitely until they can complete the time-consuming and onerous (not to mention often hopeless) task of correcting their reports or forever tarnish their reputations with carriers by allowing disclosure of an inaccurate safety violation. OOIDA’s filing also noted that many truckers rely on accurate credit reporting to finance their trucks. The significance of an inaccurate report, therefore, cannot be overstated.
For truckers, like many individuals, the damage from inaccurate reporting starts well before a report is ever sent to a third party. The risk of harm alone can be devastating to truckers’ careers; allowing them to sue before a report is distributed is critical. If truckers discover systemic accuracy violations before reports are sent out, the rule applied by the Ninth Circuit gives truckers a chance to enforce their rights before these irreversible reputational injuries occur. Moreover, this injury standard empowers classes of individuals to bring claims collectively, providing a more much effective check against abuses by data collection and reporting agencies. Adopting TransUnion’s approach would make future legal action against reporting agencies for accuracy violations highly unlikely.
Unsurprisingly, this case has received widespread attention due its potential far-reaching impact on class action litigation, consumer reporting claims, and broader data privacy and collection practices. As of March 10, OOIDA’s brief is one of 26 amicus briefs filed on the case in support of either TransUnion or Ramirez.
Attorneys Paul D. Cullen, Jr., Charles R. Stinson, and Gregory R. Reed from the Cullen Law Firm submitted the brief on behalf of OOIDA. The full text of OOIDA’s filing can be found here.
The complete docket, including the parties’ briefs and the other briefs of amicus curiae can be found on the Supreme Court docket here.