Sergio Ramirez and his wife went to buy a car. And by buy, I mean, finance one. In order to get a loan, they of course, had to fill out a credit report. Problem for Sergio, was that his name was on a terrorist list from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Let me be clear, Sergio himself was innocent AF, but his NAME was on a list. Presumably, some other douchebag Sergio Ramirez was the problem, not this Sergio.
As such, the banks can’t loan him shit as a matter of law. So they ended up buying the car in the wife’s name, and going on about their lives.
A day later though, Sergio was like, “WTF, man? I need to look into this.” So he obtained a copy of the report from TransUnion. Ramirez being worried this might fuck some shit up, canceled a trip he had planned to Mexico, fearing he might not be able to return.
Eventually, he got Trans Union to fix the issue, so his name was no longer flagged. But he was still pretty pissed off about the whole thing, and decided to sue in federal court, and started a class action (where a bunch of people sue as a group), as he felt this whole thing was a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Here’s the thing. In a previous case, Spokeo v. Robins, SCOTUS ruled that in order to sue, you have to show damages. You can’t just sue because you’re pissed off your rights were violated. You have to show that the violation harmed you in some way. So that’s sort of what’s at issue here. Maybe Sergio can show he was harmed because he couldn’t buy a car. But all the people in the class action may have had no harm at all. They were just wrongly on a list, and once removed off that list, would be perfectly fine.
So TransUnion is saying, “Hey look at Spokeo. A lot of these assholes didn’t have anything bad happen to them. It was just an honest mistake. We don’t owe them shit, and they shouldn’t even be able to sue us.” In TransUnion’s argument, they basically said a majority of these assholes were merely sent a letter telling them of their placement on the list, which gives them an opportunity to correct it, if it’s wrong. That’s not harm being done to them, and therefore they shouldn’t be able to sue.
Ramirez colorfully argues, “We all suffered the same injury. You motherfuckers called us terrorists, when we’re not.” He’s going for a defamation argument, basically.
The US government also argued in this case, from a somewhat middle ground. They agree Ramirez and company were ass-raped. But they think the lower courts failed to consider properly how Ramirez claimed his “injuries” were typical, and thus shouldn’t be part of a larger class action. They should sue individually, based on their individual damages, and if they weren’t harmed, then they should politely go fuck themselves.
In a narrow 5:4 ruling where Thomas, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissented, SCOTUS ruled in favor of TransUnion. Only someone who can show real fucking damages, not some petty shit like their feelings were hurt, can sue for damages. Specifically, they have to show they suffered real harm, that the injury was traceable to WTF the plaintiff did, and that an award of damages can make fairly reward them.
Of the 8185 people in the class action, only 1853 were affected by it, and have standing to sue. The other people are in a “No harm no foul” situation, and go fly a kite.
Hear oral arguments or read about the case here