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Trans Union v. Ramirez

Trans Union, one of the three national credit reporting agencies, reported that thousands of consumers were “potential” matches to individuals listed as terrorists by the federal government. Unlike other credit agencies, Trans Union based its list only on name matches and did not try to match other information to ensure that the matches were genuine. As a result, Trans Union listed thousands of persons who were not on the government’s lists. When those consumers requested their credit files, Trans Union responded by sending them mailings that were misleading as to whether the terrorist designation was part of their credit files and that did not inform them about how to challenge the accuracy of that information. One affected consumer, Sergio Ramirez, brought a class action on behalf of consumers who were inaccurately listed as terrorists and had received Trans Union’s misleading mailings. The case went to trial, and a jury awarded each of the more than 8,000 class members approximately $1000 in statutory damages for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Trans Union then successfully petitioned for review by the Supreme Court.

Before the Supreme Court, Trans Union contended that the Ninth Circuit had erred in upholding the certification of a class and the award of damages to “uninjured” class members who lacked standing to sue. It also argued that the class representative’s claims were not “typical” of the class’s claims because the class representative had suffered injuries not shared by other members of the class. In an amicus brief supporting the class, Public Citizen explained that the Ninth Circuit properly held that a court may certify a class despite the possible inclusion of uninjured members as long as the award of damages is limited to members who suffered injury. Here, the court affirmed the damages award only after determining that all class members who would receive a share were injured. On June 25, 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that only those members of the class whose terrorist designation had been disclosed to potential creditors as part of a credit report had suffered an actual injury, and it rejected arguments that the risk of injury inherent in having false information in a credit file was sufficient to provide standing. Thus, the Court held that only about a quarter of the class had suffered an Article III injury. The Court did not, however, hold that the presence of uninjured members of the class required that the class certification had to be vacated in its entirety or that the injured class members had to be deprived of their share of the class judgment. Instead, it remanded to the court of appeals to consider how to deal with the class certification issues and the effect of the Court’s standing holding on the judgment in favor of injured class members.