Supreme Court Limits Suit on False Terrorism Ties on Credit Reports


The smaller group, Justice Kavanaugh wrote, had suffered an injury akin to defamation.

“Under longstanding American law, a person is injured when a defamatory statement ‘that would subject him to hatred, contempt or ridicule’ is published to a third party,” he wrote quoting a 1990 libel decision. “We have no trouble concluding that the 1,853 class members suffered a concrete harm.”

But, he wrote, the other 6,332 had not been injured.

“The mere presence of an inaccuracy in an internal credit file, if it is not disclosed to a third party, causes no concrete harm,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “In cases such as these where allegedly inaccurate or misleading information sits in a company database, the plaintiffs’ harm is roughly the same, legally speaking, as if someone wrote a defamatory letter and then stored it in her desk drawer. A letter that is not sent does not harm anyone, no matter how insulting the letter is. So too here.”

He also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the larger group of class members had suffered a risk of future harm. There was no evidence, he wrote, that these plaintiffs even knew there was false information in their credit files.

“If those plaintiffs prevailed in this case, many of them would first learn that they were ‘injured’ when they received a check compensating them for their supposed ‘injury,’” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “It is difficult to see how a risk of future harm could supply the basis for a plaintiff’s standing when the plaintiff did not even know that there was a risk of future harm.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett joined the majority opinion in the case, TransUnion v. Ramirez, No. 20-297.

In dissent, Justice Thomas wrote that the majority had parted ways with common sense.

“TransUnion generated credit reports that erroneously flagged many law-abiding people as potential terrorists and drug traffickers,” Justice Thomas wrote.

“Yet despite Congress’s judgment that such misdeeds deserve redress,” he wrote, “the majority decides that TransUnion’s actions are so insignificant that the Constitution prohibits consumers from vindicating their rights in federal court. The Constitution does no such thing.”