The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s ruling in a Fair Credit Reporting Act class action, determining that the defendant’s decision to access the plaintiff’s credit report in order to obtain a mailing address so it could attempt to collect on a debt was neither willful nor a violation of the law.
A copy of the ruling, in the case of Wolf v. Carpenter, Hazlewood, Delgado & Bolen can be accessed by clicking here.
Back in 2017, the plaintiff stopped making payments on her homeowner association assessments. The defendant was hired by the HOA to collect on the unpaid assessments. Before it filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff, the defendant accessed her credit report to obtain her current mailing address. The plaintiff filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging the defendant violated the FCRA by accessing her credit report without her consent and claiming that an HOA assessment was not a credit transaction and that there was no direct link between the transaction and the request for the credit report — both requirements under the FCRA.
Ultimately, because the plaintiff had a grace period during which she could receive half a month’s services that she had not yet paid for, that could be considered an extension of credit under similar rulings from the Ninth Circuit, making the defendant’s interpretation of the statute “not objectively unreasonable,” the Ninth Circuit wrote.
In a concurring opinion, though, one of the three judges wrote that the Ninth Circuit should revisit its stance on the issue of whether a homeowners association assessment qualifies as a “credit transaction” under the FCRA. Noting that it is unclear under current case law whether an HOA assessment qualifies as a credit transaction, Judge Morgan Christen pondered that it “is hard to imagine that Congress intended FCRA, a statute that protects consumer privacy, to empower HOAs composed of neighboring homeowners to run their neighbors’ credit reports if homeowners fall two weeks behind in their payments.”