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Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1681 et seq., whether a credit report is a consumer report does not depend solely upon the ultimate use to which the information contained therein is put, but instead, it is governed by the purpose for which the information was originally collected in whole or in part by the consumer reporting agency. In other words, even if a report is used or expected to be used for a non-consumer purpose, it may still fall within the definition of a consumer report if it contains information that was originally collected by a consumer reporting agency with the expectation that it would be used for a consumer purpose.
In September 1996 appellees Dr. Johnny L. Bakker, who is a dentist, and his adult daughters, Teresa Bakker and Carrie Ann Bakker, filed this lawsuit alleging that Laura McKinnon had requested several consumer credit reports about them from a local credit bureau in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA or the Act). McKinnon represents several women patients of Dr. Bakker who claimed that Dr. Bakker had committed dental malpractice by improperly touching them during the course of dental treatments. Appellant filed lawsuits in state court on behalf of these women against Dr. Bakker. The district court awarded to Dr. Bakker and his two daughters $500 in compensatory damages and $5,000 in punitive damages. For reversal, McKinnon contended that the district court erred in finding that she violated the FCRA and in awarding an unreasonable amount for punitive damages.
Did the district court err in finding that McKinnon violated the FCRA?
The court affirmed. McKinnon admitted that she or someone in her office obtained the credit reports. She argued that she obtained them for a commercial or a professional purpose and that the credit reports were not consumer credit reports within the meaning of 15 U.S.C.S. §§ 1681a(d) or 1681b. She argued that, assuming the credit reports were consumer reports within the meaning of the FCRA, she had a legitimate business need for requesting them. 15 U.S.C.S. § 1681b(3)(E). The court rejected each argument, holding that regardless of the intended use, the reports were consumer reports within the meaning of the FCRA because the information contained therein was collected for a consumer purpose.