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Government may be immune on credit revelation

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that the federal government does not always lose its immunity, as a sovereign, to a damages lawsuit claiming that a federal agency publicly disclosed personal information about a consumer’s credit card.  Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court in U.S. v. Bormes (11-192), involving an interpretation of the so-called “Little Tucker Act.”

That Act, and a similar one called the “Tucker Act,” provide the federal government’s consent to being sued for certain claims for money damages.   But the government’s usual immunity is not displaced if Congress has provided a separate remedy that includes money damages.  The Court ruled Monday that the Fair Credit Reporting Act is such a law.  It ruled in a case filed by a Chicago attorney, James K. Bormes, who had paid a court filing fee with his personal American Express credit card.   He was sent a receipt for the payment, along with an e-mail confirmation including his credit card’s expiration date and the last four digits of the account number.  The credit reporting law created a private right to sue for violations of a consumer’s privacy.

Bormes sued as the representative of a class of thousands of individuals who found themselves in the same situation.   A District Court dismissed the lawsuit, finding no waiver in the credit law of government immunity, but the Federal Circuit Court revived the claim.   The federal government then took the issue to the Supreme Court.

Although the Court ruled that the immunity is not generally lost under the Little Tucker Act, it said it was not deciding whether the credit reporting law itself might have waived that immunity.  Justice Scalia’s opinion said that was for the Seventh Circuit Court to consider when the case is transferred to that court for further review.   The government had sought earlier to have the case sent to the Seventh Circuit rather than being decided by the Federal Circuit, but that was denied.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Government may be immune on credit revelation, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 13, 2012, 10:02 AM),