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Did Court Expand Definition of Consumer Report Under the FCRA?

Written by Andrew Sefzik on August 26, 2015

Abdelfattah v. U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 8010 (D.C. Cir. May 15, 2015) (Brown, Circuit Judge)

Facts: Plaintiff sued the United States Department of Homeland Security and others, alleging multiple claims, including that the government’s collection, maintenance and use of information about him violated the FCRA. Plaintiff, a Jordanian national, had been a roommate of a man that later became a person of interest in the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. As a result, Plaintiff was put on the terrorist watch list and Plaintiff experienced difficulties obtaining employment authorization extensions. Plaintiff eventually submitted a Freedom of Information Act request related to his employment authorization applications. He received several hundred pages containing information about him in response, including pages indicating that he was an exact match on a terrorism lookout, may be linked to terrorist activities, and that he may be associated with an individual who was arrested for document fraud. The documents Plaintiff received also included his credit card number. Plaintiff’s FCRA claim stemmed from the government’s possession of personal and financial information about him, such as his previous addresses and phone numbers, social security number, driver’s license number and credit card number.

• Failure to State a Claim: The district court determined that Plaintiff failed to state an FCRA claim because the government’s possession of information about him was not prohibited by the FCRA.

• Consumer Report: The district court determined that the information furnished to Plaintiff did not constitute a consumer report under the FCRA because it did not bear on Plaintiff’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics or mode of living. The appellate court recognized that the FCRA regulates the dissemination and use of consumer reports. That court clarified the definition of a consumer report under the FCRA, stating that it must be a written, oral or other communication of information by a consumer-reporting agency (CRA) bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics or mode of living. Additionally, the information must be used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for one of several purposes identified in the FCRA. The appellate court found that under the FCRA, a governmental agency may obtain basic identifying information about a consumer from a CRA. The identifying information is limited to the consumer’s name, address, former address, places of employment, or former places of employment. The appellate court also found that Plaintiff’s possession of a major credit card of a specific type and number bears on his mode of living. It therefore reversed the district court’s ruling that Plaintiff’s FCRA claims failed on the first prong of the definition of “consumer report,” and remanded for further proceedings.