The popular people search engine, Spokeo, has had their day in court.
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the high-profile court case Spokeo v. Robins, a legal case that will have major implications for companies like people search engines, data brokers and social networks that collect and sell personal information and public records .
Spokeo is a people search site that collects information on individuals from social networks and public records as well as other publicly available sources.
Thomas Robins filed a class-action lawsuit against Spokeo back in 2010, claiming that most of the personal information in his Spokeo profile was wrong.
Robins’ Spokeo report allegedly included incorrect information about his age, marital status, professional career and education. His lawyers argue that his Spokeo profile cost him job opportunities and caused him emotional distress.
Spokeo v. Robins is about whether or not Robins can proceed with his class action lawsuit without showing any actual injury.
Spokeo maintains that Robins needs to show that real personal damage occurred, while Robins’ lawyer says that it is enough to show that Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by reporting incorrect information about Robins.
The Spokeo v. Robins decision will have major implications for the future of class-action suits brought against companies.
In a nutshell, Spokeo v. Robins is about whether Robins has legal standing under the Constitution to proceed with his class-action suit in federal court. The law requires that there has to be a legal case before federal courts can be involved in a case.
Robins is suing Spokeo for allegedly violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that consumer credit reporting companies provide accurate information on people.
Companies that run afoul of the FCRA can be fined $1,000 per violation. In addition, consumers can sue for actual and punitive damages.
In oral arguments, Spokeo’s lawyers said that Robins has failed to show that he suffered any actual injuries from the incorrect information found in his Spokeo report.
Mr. Robins’ lawyer, William Consovoy, admitted to Justice Alito that there was no proof showing that Mr. Robins’ name and information had ever been searched for through Spokeo’s people search.
Liberal-leaning justices like Sotomayor and Kagan seemed to side with Robins in their statements and questioning.
Conservative-leaning justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, tended to lean towards Spokeo’s argument that actual injury must be shown in these types of federal cases.
Overall, it sounds like Mr. Robins’ attorney wasn’t prepared for Spokeo’s legal move that landed him and his client in front of the Supreme Court. However, if Robins’ questionable class-action suit is allowed to go forward, it will still require some serious legal gymnastics for his attorney to portray Spokeo as a credit reporting company under the FCRA.
Some consumer organizations along with the Obama administration have sided with Robins; while a number of business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce have publicly supported Spokeo.
Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies like Yahoo!, Google, Facebook and Ebay have filed court briefs on behalf of Spokeo.
A number of Supreme Court experts are predicting that the court will side with Spokeo and reverse the lower court ruling.
However, if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s decision in favor of Roberts’ class action suit, Spokeo may eventually end up paying out millions of dollars in damages to consumers.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce their decision in this case during the first quarter of 2016.