Third Circuit Shields Property Reporting Firm From FCRA Liability

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Explore:  FCRA

On December 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that a property reporting firm cannot be held liable for a willful violation of FCRA because the firm’s interpretation that it was not a consumer reporting agency subject to FCRA requirements was not unreasonable. Fuges v. Southwest Fin. Servs., Ltd., No 11-4504, 2012 WL 6051966 (3rd Cir. Dec. 6, 2012). The borrower filed a putative class action against a property reporting firm, alleging that the firm failed to comply with FCRA when it prepared a report requested by a bank in connection with the borrower’s credit application. On the reporting firm’s motion for summary judgment, the district court explained that the property report contained information about deeds, mortgages, parcel number and taxes, and lien information that more closely relate to a particular parcel of property than to a particular consumer, and that the report did not contain a social security number, payment history, previous addresses, or other information typically included in consumer credit reports. It held that no jury could find that the firm acted willfully because the firm’s reading of FCRA as not being applicable to property-reporting activities was not unreasonable, and granted summary judgment in favor of the firm. The appellate court agreed, holding that (i) the statute’s terms are ambiguous, (ii) the firm’s reading of the those terms has some foundation in the statutory text, and was therefore not objectively unreasonable, and (iii) there is no judicial or agency guidance that would suggest that the firm’s reading is contrary to the intended meaning of the provisions in question, and therefore the firm did not run a substantial risk in adopting its interpretation. Further, the court rejected the borrower’s argument that the reporting firm should lose the potential protection of the “reasonable interpretation” defense, because it never actually interpreted FCRA prior to the commencement of the suit. The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the reporting firm.