Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Supreme Court Avoids Ruling on RESPA Case

In an anti-climactic conclusion to a closely-watched case, the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal in First American Financial Corp. v. Edwards. In a one-sentence per curiam order, the Court simply stated that “the writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.”

Before the Supreme Court this term, the First American Financial matter related to the “standing to sue” class-action requirement, and it had more than a few business owners on edge. On its surface, First American Financial Corp. v. Edwards appeared to be a simple dispute over real-estate title insurance. But the case has become a much larger discussion about who can sue and when. At issue is whether a class of plaintiffs have standing to sue a company simply because that company violated a statute or whether those plaintiffs must show some type of economic injury that directly resulted from that statute violation.  In other words, can a plaintiff sue a business for, say, money damages without having actually suffered any economic harm?
Parties as diverse as the State of Missouri, National Association of Home Builders, and even Facebook have weighed in on the case. By dismissing the appeal, the Supremem Court effectively upheld the Ninth Circuit decision and expanded plaintiffs’ rights to sue.

Specifically, the First American case presented the issue of whether a homebuyer who brings a claim under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) has standing under Article III of the Constitution to recover statutory damages in the absence of any actual damages caused by the alleged RESPA violation.
Resolution of this important standing issue could have affected the ability of consumers to recover statutory damages under a wide array of consumer protection statutes where actual damages are often difficult to prove or non-existent, including the Truth in Lending Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Homeowners Protection Act, the Credit Repair Organizations Act, and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act.
The Supreme Court did not explain its reasons for dismissing the appeal. Some have speculated that, during the seven months that elapsed since the case was argued, the justices were unable to reach a consensus on the result. In any event, the standing issue raised in First American is an important one and is sure to be the subject of many additional decisions by the country’s federal trial and appellate courts—and perhaps the Supreme Court—in the months and years to come.

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