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United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
January 9, 2020, Decided
[*739] JULIE CARNES, Circuit Judge:
In this Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") case, First Advantage Background Services Corporation ("Defendant") appeals the denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, motion for a new trial or remittitur. On appeal, Defendant asserts that the jury's $250,000 compensatory damages award should be vacated because Richard Alexander Williams ("Plaintiff") failed to show evidence of reputational harm. [**2] Defendant also contends that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's claim that it willfully violated the FCRA. Finally, Defendant argues that the excessiveness of the jury's $3.3 million punitive damages award rendered it unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause. After careful review, and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm the district court's denial of Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law to the extent it challenged the reputational harm claim and the willfulness claim. We, however, vacate the jury's punitive damages award and remand the case to the district court to enter a judgment awarding Plaintiff $1 million in punitive damages.
I. Defendant's Procedures
Defendant is a consumer reporting agency that prepares criminal background reports on individuals. In 2012 Defendant prepared around 9 to 10 million background reports nationally, and in 2013 it prepared 10 to 12 million background reports nationally.2 Defendant charged $11 to $12 for each report. As to how Defendant prepares these reports, Defendant maintains a national criminal file database that contains criminal records from around the country. When a customer orders a criminal background [**3] check, the consumer's information is passed through an automated search of this database.
Defendant's standard operating procedures for people with non-common names require a match of at least two identifiers—such as name, date of birth, social security number, or driver's license number—before attributing to the subject of a background investigation the criminal record of a person with the same, or similar, name. Attribution requires only a "reasonable match," rather than an exact match. Defendant looks for middle names or initials, but a match can be made without one. For example, consider the following two individuals, both of whom are Florida residents born on the same day with an uncommon name: Daniel Atreus Kowalski and Dan Kowalski. Daniel and Dan have a match of two identifiers—identical dates of birth and "reasonably matching" names. If Dan had a grand theft auto conviction, while Daniel had no criminal record, a background report compiled by Defendant on Daniel could nonetheless indicate that he had a grand theft auto conviction. The fact that Daniel has a reported middle name would not prevent Dan's criminal record from being included in a background report on Daniel. On [**4] the other hand, if Dan had a conflicting middle name or middle initial (e.g., "C." or "Christopher"), Dan's conviction would not be included in Defendant's background report on Daniel.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
947 F.3d 735 *; 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 620 **; 28 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 685; 2020 WL 103659
RICHARD ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee, versus FIRST ADVANTAGE LNS SCREENING SOLUTIONS INC, f.k.a. LexisNexis Screening Solutions Inc., et al., Defendants, FIRST ADVANTAGE BACKGROUND SERVICES CORPORATION, a Florida Corporation, Defendant-Appellant.
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
Williams v. First Advantage LNS Screening Solutions, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 3d 1333, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29888 (N.D. Fla., Mar. 2, 2017)
Disposition: AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED IN PART; REMANDED.
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Banking Law, Consumer Protection, Fair Credit Reporting, Consumer Reports, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Trials, Judgment as Matter of Law, Postverdict Judgment, Clearly Erroneous Review, Torts, Punitive Damages, Measurement of Damages, Constitutional Requirements, Remedies, Damages, Punitive Damages, Judicial Review, Liability for Violations, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Compensatory Damages, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Determinative Factors