Federal Court Rules FCRA Constitutional

By Teresa Anderson


In a ruling handed down last week, a federal district court upheld a provision of federal law that makes it illegal for consumer reporting agencies to disclose background check information that is more than seven years old. The law was challenged on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment. The court ruled that the law passes constitutional muster.

In early 2010, Shamara King applied for a job with the U.S. Postal Service. In considering her application, the postal service ordered a background check from General Information Services (GIS). The report GIS provided on King included criminal charges that had been voluntarily dismissed by the prosecution 10 years previously.

King filed a class action lawsuit, on behalf of herself and others, against GIS claiming that the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by reporting outdated information. Specifically, King alleged that GIS reported information that was 10 years old when the FCRA limits disclosures to the previous seven years.

GIS then filed a motion claiming that the FCRA’s time limit of seven years is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania noted that restrictions on speech concerning public matters may not be restricted under the First Amendment. However, in the case at hand, the court ruled that information being exchanged was private and was gathered for a narrow, commercial purpose. In the written opinion of the case, the court wrote that “the private nature of these consumer reports does not significantly contribute to the public dialogue and, accordingly, this court finds that such information warrants a reduced constitutional protection.”

The ruling allows King to pursue her class action lawsuit against GIS.

photo by Casey Serin/flickr


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