Federal Judge Denies New Trial in FCRA Case

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Featured Federal Judge Denies New Trial in FCRA Case

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has issued a ruling denying a defendant’s motion for a new trial after a jury issued a ruling of $80,000 in actual damages and $700,000 in punitive damages for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, the court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment in part to lower the punitive damages by $225,000 to $475,000.

The debts at the center of this case actually belonged to the plaintiff’s father, not the plaintiff himself. According to the lawsuit filed by the plaintiff, the defendant incorrectly reported 19 of these debts to two reporting bureaus. The plaintiff subsequently filed 31 separate disputes regarding these debts to the defendant, which included the plaintiff’s name, last four digits of his Social Security number, date of birth, and an explanation that the debts had belonged to his father. 

However, the defendant lacked any training or policy for investigators regarding the processing of investigations, and employees would not review the message section. Learn More 

According to testimony from employees of the defendant, the standard operating procedure, even when identification discrepancies were apparent, was to report delinquent debts as accurate.

As a result, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded a total of $780,000 in combined punitive and actual damages. In response, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial arguing that hearsay testimony was improperly accepted, the plaintiff had failed to establish emotional damages, and that the size of the punitive damages awarded exceeded the jury’s authority.

The defendant’s motion for a new trial was denied, and the judge affirmed that the plaintiff did suffer emotional damages. However, in reviewing the award for punitive damages, the judge found that the defendant’s behavior was “highly reprehensible” in how it treated the greater than 30 disputes under the FCRA over the course of 18 months and that the size of the award likely represented this. 

Additionally, the court found that the jury was likely affected in part by the lack of any representatives from the defending company itself over the course of the trial. However, the ratio of the award for punitive damages was inordinately high compared to the award of actual damages based on case history. As a result, the court reduced the punitive damages from $700,000 to $475,000 based on ratios found in similar cases decided by the Eleventh Circuit. This leaves the defendant with a total of $555,000 in combined actual and punitive damages awarded against them.

Make sure your company policies are compliant with State law by reading up on fair chance hiring practices. Learn more by downloading our free resource on Adverse Action Notice Protocols in Compliance With FCRA.

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