On July 18, 2017, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan issued an important decision in the case of Ricketson v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., a case brought by Westbrook Law PLLC under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. In the Ricketson case, the plaintiff challenged Experian’s practice of rejecting consumer disputes without investigating them as required by the FCRA.
After noticing an inaccuracy in his Experian credit report, the plaintiff sent a dispute letter to Experian. Instead of investigating the disputed item as the FCRA requires, Experian sent a letter to the plaintiff stating that it had received a “suspicious request” that it believed was from a third party, and would not be investigating the disputed item. The Ricketson lawsuit resulted.
Experian challenged the lawsuit on various technical grounds. It argued that because the disputed information was never shared with any potential creditors, there could be no harm and no standing to hold Experian liable. It also argued that the evidence could not support a finding that its violation of the FCRA had been willful.
In its opinion, penned by Chief Judge Robert J. Jonker, the court rejected Experian’s arguments, finding that the investigation and disclosure requirements of the FCRA must be construed strictly, in order to avoid exactly the kind of harms the plaintiff suffered – mental stress and emotional distress linked to being deprived of accurate information about his credit standing. The court also held that Experian’s policies and procedures for handling disputes could support a jury verdict of willfulness, and thus give rise to punitive damages.
The FCRA is a comprehensive legal framework that strictly controls procedures for maintaining, correcting, and dispensing credit information about consumers. The court’s decision in Ricketson affirms the continuing vitality of the FCRA in protecting consumers’ rights not only to ensure that the information provided by credit reporting agencies about them is accurate, but also to be kept informed about the contents of the credit reporting agencies’ files.
If you discover that inaccurate information about your accounts, debts, or personal information is being reported by a credit reporting agency, contact us to learn more about your legal rights under the FCRA.