In Robinson v. Equifax Information Services, Inc. __ F.3d __ (4th Cir. 2009), the Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit affirmed in part a jury verdict against a credit reporting agency for $200,000 in actual damages under FCRA. The facts arose out of an identity theft situation:
In April 2000, Robinson discovered that a woman named Nicole Antoinette Robinson had stolen her identity and opened fraudulent accounts in her name and under her social security number. Shortly after discovering that she had been the victim of identity theft, Robinson began the process of restoring her credit history. Specifically, she filed a police report, called the Federal Trade Commission hotline and opened a case, and spent the next five months trying to correct the erroneous entries on her credit report. As a result of her efforts, by 2001 Robinson’s credit report was free of all fraudulent accounts caused by the identity thief. During this same time, but unrelated to her identity theft, Robinson lost her job and was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in May 2001. Robinson was able to obtain a discharge of her debts by September 2001, but this was not the end of Robinson’s financial and credit woes. Unfortunately, it was just the beginning. [¶] For several more years, Robinson continued to experience credit problems resulting from Equifax’s mishandling of her credit file. Equifax mistakenly placed Robinson’s address and social security number on three credit files established by the identity thief, each of which contained derogatory credit accounts (the “identity thief’s files”). Consequently, Equifax sent various creditors requesting Robinson’s credit report her actual credit file along with one of the identity thief’s files. [¶] As a result of these errors, Robinson’s credit problems persisted and she experienced difficulties obtaining any type of consumer credit from 2003 until 2006. . . . [¶] . . .Robinson’s credit problems continued and she was not able to obtain a home loan over the course of the next couple of years. In January 2005, Robinson tried to secure a home loan from a mort-gage company, but she was turned down because Equifax sent the mortgage company one of the identity thief’s files. . . . [¶] Several months later, in May of 2005, yet another error occurred when Equifax, responding to a request to place a fraud alert on Robinson’s account, inadvertently placed Robinson’s social security number and address on another of the identity thief’s files. Un-aware of this most recent error, Robinson applied for another home loan in January of 2006. Yet again, Equifax sent the mortgage company her correct file along with one of the identity thief’s files. . . . Robinson applied for another mortgage in July 2006. Once again, Equifax sent another one of the identity thief’s files to the mortgage lender. . .
The Court of Appeals found this fact pattern, and testimony from plaintiff and her experts, to support the jury’s verdict. The Court of Appeals explained:
The evidence presented at trial clearly demonstrates that on numerous occasions Robinson attempted to secure a home mortgage, only to be either denied outright or offered a loan on less advantageous terms than she might have received absent Equifax’s errors. Indeed, two loan officers testified that the inaccurate Equifax credit reports were a substantial factor in their inability to approve Robinson for a loan, and that they could not qualify her for a loan unless and until the erroneous accounts either were paid off or removed from her credit report. [¶] Likewise, we conclude that Robinson proffered sufficient evidence that she suffered emotional distress as a result of Equifax’s errors. “Our previous cases establish the type of evidence required to support an award for emotional damages.” Sloane, 510 F.3d at 503. . . . In this case, Robinson presented evidence that her mental distress manifested itself as headaches, sleeplessness, skin acne, upset stomach, and hair loss. Moreover, the testimony of Robinson’s friends and family members painted a detailed picture of her on-going struggles with Equifax and the emotional toll these events took upon her. Illustratively, one of Robinson’s co-workers testified that in response to her continued problems with Equifax, Robinson “would be crying” and “screaming” and often she was “upset … [and] stressed.” Another co-worker recounted that Robinson only complained about Equifax and that she was often “visibly upset” as a result of the company’s conduct. As her mother recalled, Robinson was “[d]istraught” and there “were changes in her physical appearance. There were changes in her demeanor, her interactions with her daughter and her family, [and] friends.” [¶] Based on these incidents and our review of the entire record, it is clear that Robinson sufficiently articulated and demonstrated the emotional distress she experienced as she attempted to correct Equifax’s errors.
The Court of Appeals also remanded the matter for re-evaluation of the attorneys’ fee award to the plaintiffs’ counsel in the amount of $268,652.25.