The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has overturned a ruling in favor of a plaintiff who sued a credit reporting agency for willfully violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by not reinvestigating a dispute because the letter appeared to be suspicious.
A copy of the ruling in the case of Younger v. Experian Information Solutions can be accessed by clicking here.
The plaintiff had a small-claims debt resolved when a lawsuit was dismissed, but the debt was not removed from his credit report. With the assistance of his lawyer, the plaintiff drafted a letter disputing the tradeline and sent it to the defendant. In the letter, the plaintiff used an incorrect account number and mistakenly referenced a credit reporting agency other than the defendant. The letter was sent from the lawyer’s office, via certified mail, using printed postage from an automated postal machine. When the letter was received in the defendant’s mailroom, an employee classified it as being suspicious. That triggered the sending of an automated letter to the plaintiff that included instructions about what to do if the letter was not suspicious. The plaintiff did not follow the instructions, instead choosing to file suit against the credit reporting agency.
Following a two-day trial, a jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages, which a Magistrate judge lowered to $500,000.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the defendant should not have been found to willfully violated the FCRA because it did not make such mis-classification mistakes enough to infer it had an “unjustifiably high risk” of violating its duty to reinvestigate.