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Harris v. Mexican Specialty Foods

Topic(s): Consumer Justice
Scope of Statutory Rights and Remedies

Description:

These cases concerned the federal statutory protections available for consumers who are victims of identity theft or credit-reporting errors. In two consolidated Eleventh Circuit appeals, Public Citizen successfully obtained reversal of a first-impression decision that struck down as unconstitutional the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s statutory-damages regime. Public Citizen argued the appeal in March 2009 and the Eleventh Circuit issued its opinion in April 2009.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act provision at issue, consumers may recover damages of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 for willful violations of the Act. Borrowing from the Supreme Court’s punitive-damages jurisprudence, the district court held that the provision is unconstitutionally vague and would result in minimum statutory damages that are unconstitutionally excessive. The district court’s ruling would have set a dangerous precedent by expanding the substantive due process review of punitive damages into liability that is defined by statute.