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Kirtz v. Trans Union; USDA v. Kirtz

Plaintiff Kirtz alleged that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Rural Housing Service (USDA) violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by failing to investigate and correct erroneous information that it submitted to Trans Union, a credit reporting agency. As a general rule, federal agencies are immune from suit under a principle called sovereign immunity. Congress may waive sovereign immunity, however, through a statute authorizing suit. In FCRA, Congress gave consumers a right to file suit against any “person” who negligently or willfully violates the statute, and it defined “person” to include any “government or governmental subdivision or agency.” In this case, the USDA argued that the FCRA did not waive the government’s sovereign immunity from suit. The district court agreed and dismissed the case against USDA.

Public Citizen Litigation Group, co-counseling with attorney Matthew Weisberg on the appeal, argued that FCRA waives the government’s sovereign immunity by unambiguously authorizing suit against federal agencies. In a unanimous opinion, the Third Circuit agreed with us that the FCRA’s plain text clearly and unambiguously authorizes suits for civil damages against the federal government. The court therefore ruled in favor of the plaintiff and reversed the district court’s decision.

The Supreme Court then granted the USDA’s petition for certiorari. Urging the Supreme Court to affirm the Third Circuit’s decision, our brief explained that FCRA’s text is unambiguous in authorizing an action against federal agencies. The Court heard oral argument in November 2023. In February 2024, the Court issued a unanimous decision, ruling in our favor and rejecting the government’s argument.