Factually v. Legally Inaccurate Information, The Difference Matters: Court Rejects FCRA Claims Based on Disputed Legal Issue

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On January 21, 2021, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted TransUnion Data Solutions LLC’s (Trans Union) motion for judgment on the pleadings, denying Blue Sobenes’ (Sobenes) claims against Trans Union under sections 1681i(a) and 1681e(b) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

In Sobenes v. Transunion Data Sols., Sobenes charged goods and services on a credit card issued to her by Comenity Bank, which subsequently charged off and then sold the account. The debt buyer later brought an action in state court against Sobenes to collect on the account; however, six days before scheduled arbitration, the state court lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice. After this voluntary dismissal, the debt buyer continued to furnish information regarding the account to consumer reporting agencies, including Trans Union.

Sobenes, through counsel, advised Trans Union that information on her credit report concerning the Comenity Bank debt was inaccurate, and she provided supporting documentation, including the motion to dismiss the state court lawsuit without prejudice. After conducting an investigation, which revealed that Sobenes still owed the debt, Trans Union declined to remove the debt from Sobenes’ credit report. Sobenes then filed suit against Trans Union alleging that it failed to conduct a proper and reasonable reinvestigation concerning the inaccurate information in Sobenes’ credit report after Sobenes advised it of the dispute; failed to consider all relevant information submitted by Sobenes concerning the dispute of the inaccurate information; and failed to delete the inaccurate information from Sobenes’ credit file after reinvestigation, all in violation of section 1681i(a) of the FCRA. She further alleges that Trans Union failed to employ and follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy in Sobenes’ credit report information and file, in violation of section 1681e(b) of the FCRA.

The Court began its analysis by iterating that to state a claim under section 1681i(a) or section 1681e(b) of the FCRA a plaintiff must sufficiently allege that the credit report contains factually, not legally, inaccurate information. It elaborated further defining factually inaccurate information as information which includes inaccurate amounts, tradeline items not immediately removed once vacated, and inaccurately updated loan terms. The Court defined legal inaccuracies to include the validity of a debt or a dispute regarding to whom the debt was assigned. Finally, it furthered its investigation stating, that to distinguish the two types of inaccuracies one must ask whether the defendant could have uncovered the inaccuracy if it had reasonably investigated the issue.

After establishing this foundation, the Court held that Sobenes did not allege factual inaccuracies. She did not dispute that she incurred the debt, the amount of the debt, or that the debt was ever vacated. Instead, she argued the debt buyer provided insufficient documentation to prove that it owns the Comenity Bank debt. In answering its own question, the Court determined that Trans Union could not have uncovered the alleged inaccuracy if it had reasonably investigated the issue, and further determined that Trans Union had reasonably investigated the issue and properly included its findings of that investigation in its credit report. The Court held that it was unreasonable to expect Trans Union to determine whether the Bill of Sale was defective or to infer that the debt buyer lacked proper ownership of the debt from its voluntary motion to dismiss without prejudice.

In summary, plaintiffs in the District of Illinois need to plead factual inaccuracies in their FCRA section 1681i(a) and 1681e(b) claims to withstand judicial scrutiny.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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