Judicial Economy in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

In its recent opinion Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U.S. ____ [PDF Warning], the eight-member Supreme Court seems to implicitly disregard judicial economy in favor of an attempt at clarity. In Spokeo, the plaintiff, a Mr. Robbins alleged that the website Spokeo violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681–1681x, incorrectly listed a bunch of information him, such as his age, marital status, familial status, income, and level of education. Id. at 6.  Spokeo is kind of a search engine for information about individuals, scraping databases and making that information available to businesses, etc. Id. at 5. The Court remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the issue of whether Mr. Robins’s alleged injury satisfied the concreteness requirement of the Constitutional test for standing under Article III. Id. at 13. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, reasoned that the Ninth Circuit failed to analyze Mr. Robins’s claim under the concreteness requirement, id. at 4, even though Mr. Robins alleged that this misinformation made it difficult to get a job, id. at 22 (Ginsburg dissenting).

Judicial economy is the efficiency of operation in the judicial system. Black’s Law Dictionary, 923 (9th ed. 2009). In this case, Mr. Robins will have to resubmit his pleadings to the Ninth Circuit so that it can correct it’s legal analysis to include the concreteness requirement. As Justice Ginsburg points out in her dissent, id. at 22 (Ginsburg dissenting), Mr. Robins pleaded facts that support an injury well beyond the “bare procedural” violation that Justice Alito is concerned about in the majority, id. at 11. This process will cost the Ninth Circuit, Mr. Robins, and Spokeo, an amount that is likely measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And for what, simply because the drafting law clerk conflated two elements of an analysis?

Why does the Court not merely apply the correct concreteness analysis and affirm the Ninth Circuits on the underlying facts, but not the legal analysis? I know I’ve seen such an affirmation on facts but not on law, but I cannot think of anything offhand. Could someone cite to something in the comments?

Personally, I believe that this the Spokeo decision is a reaction to the perceived ineffectiveness of the current eight-member court. The decision, and especially Justice Thomas’s concurrence, is one of most theoretical decisions I’ve ever read. It seems that the court found a way to make a very legal distinction in the evolving area of Article III standing, and just kind of said this one will be relevant, even though it had all the facts it need to decide the case and make a clear(er) holding.

If you have a different take on the why of Spokeo, please leave a comment!

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