Whether state courts should use the more restrictive federal court standing analysis when deciding whether plaintiffs have standing to sue.
“Standing” refers to a court’s ability to rule on a lawsuit, and it has become one of the most important parts of a lawsuit. If the plaintiff has not established that the court has standing to hear a case, then the court will dismiss the case. To establish standing, a plaintiff must allege—among other things—that they have suffered a concrete injury because of the defendant’s conduct.
Two recent Supreme Court cases—Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins and TransUnion, LLC v. Ramirez—made it harder for plaintiffs to establish standing in federal courts, but they explicitly do not set the standing requirements for state courts. In both cases, plaintiffs sued based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), but the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they did not allege concrete injuries, but instead mere procedural violations of FCRA. In other words, the Court said that while the defendants violated the law, their violation did not actually hurt the plaintiffs in any real way.
In TransUnion, the Court explained two broad categories of concrete injuries: tangible harms (such as physical and monetary), and intangible harms that include, among other things, “injuries with a close relationship to harms traditionally recognized as providing a basis for lawsuits in American courts.” The court listed examples of these harms: reputational harms and, importantly, privacy torts like disclosure of private information and intrusion upon seclusion.
State courts, including in California, have less restrictive standing rules that enable people to vindicate their state privacy rights in court.
The plaintiffs in the case sued their former employer Circle K alleging the company violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) through confusing requests for “consent” to run background checks on prospective employees. The federal court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The plaintiffs then sued in California state court, but the state court did the same. The plaintiffs appealed, and the California appellate court affirmed the dismissal, using the federal standing requirements in its analysis. The plaintiffs are now asking the California Supreme Court to reverse this mistake, arguing that it is legally wrong and would be detrimental to Californians’ ability to vindicate their privacy rights in state court.
EPIC filed an amicus letter brief alongside EFF, with help from Feinberg, Jackson, Worthman & Wasow LLP and Hunter Pyle Law, urging the California Supreme Court to take up the case and reverse the California Appellate Court. EPIC and EFF’s letter brief explains why state courts are crucial for vindicating people’s privacy rights and why importing the federal standing doctrine into state cases is unwarranted and harmful. You can read more about the case at EFF’s Deeplinks blog.