In a much anticipated decision, the Supreme Court held today in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339, that alleging a “bare procedural violation” of a federal statute may not be enough to confer a plaintiff with standing to sue. On the other hand, the Court’s 6-2 opinion, authored by Justice Alito, indicated that “the violation of a procedural right granted by a statute can be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute injury in fact”—the foremost element that a plaintiff must satisfy to establish standing.
This holding in a case alleging violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act by an online “people search engine” does not deliver the bright-line rule that lawyers in both the plaintiffs and defense bars were seeking. But what is clear from the Court’s majority opinion is that to demonstrate injury in fact, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered harm that is not only “particularized,” but also “concrete.” According to the Court, a concrete injury can be tangible or intangible, but “it must actually exist.” Since the violation of a statutory procedural right may not result in concrete harm, alleging such a violation does not automatically demonstrate injury in fact.
Lower courts now will be confronted with the challenge of applying Spokeo in individual cases, including putative class actions, seeking money damages for alleged violations of federal statutory procedural rights.