Weeks after lawyers gave oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court on Ramirez v. TransUnion, a case that will impact how standing is determined in class action lawsuits, the attorney for one of the law firms involved spoke with students at Berkeley Law.
John Soumilas, a shareholder at Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C., who has been personally involved in the case from the outset, gave his insights to students on the background of the case and the impact it will have on future lawsuits. He spoke about the firm’s considerations and the impact a recent Supreme Court case had on his case.
What is the Background on Ramirez v. TransUnion?
Soumilas spoke to the class about his involvement in the case when it began about 10 years ago when the plaintiff, Sergio L. Ramirez, found out that TransUnion, a credit reporting agency (CRA), had incorrectly stated that he was on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) watch list. The list, colloquially known as the Terrorist Watch List, discourages Americans from conducting business with these individuals because they are suspected of terrorism or drug trafficking.
The case moved through the court system including a verdict of more than $40 million. TransUnion appealed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed to hear one argument of the case focusing on the merits of the other members of the class action. TransUnion is claiming that some of the other members do not have standing to sue in federal court.
What Happened Behind the Scenes?
In his talk, Soumilas spoke at length about the background of the case and the factors his law firm had to consider before moving forward. He told the students that the case started innocently enough when his client, Sergio Ramirez, walked into a dealership to purchase a car. Everything was going well until the topic of finances came up. The dealership conducted a routine background check and made the discovery about Ramirez’s affiliation with the watch list – according to TransUnion’s credit report.
Despite the erroneous nature of the information, the dealership could not risk conducting business with Ramirez. It could mean severe fines and even jailtime for them, Soumilas told the audience. Ramirez’s wife wound up purchasing the car to avoid any legal problems as he set out to learn how Trans Union placed him on the infamous list.
Ramirez reached out to the CRA and the Department of the Treasury. He learned that Treasury had not listed him at all on the list; the CRA confirmed the information but was not helpful in telling him whether anything can be done to correct the error. It was at that time that Ramirez reached out to Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C. to determine his next steps.
Soumilas explained that Treasury never listed Ramirez nor any other member of the class action on its watch list. TransUnion received all its information through third-party vendors and from that information, the CRA made its determination about Ramirez.
What Major Obstacles Does the Case Have to Overcome?
Soumilas described the legal journey the case took over the past 10 years from district court to the Court of Appeals. He said that as a lawyer, he is in the predictability business in that lawyers must predict the outcome of cases and act accordingly. The plan was sidetracked in 2016 by the Supreme Court’s Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins decision.
That case was similar to Ramirez’s in that it involved false information found on a search engine. Spokeo listed false information about the plaintiff, Thomas Robins. The website stated he was employed as a professional, was married with children, had a significant amount of wealth, and earned his graduate degree. None of that was true, and the picture listed with his name was also not of him. At the time, Robins was unemployed and seeking a job. Robins claimed in his suit that the misinformation was hurting his job prospects.
In a 6-2 decision, the Court ruled that the Court of Appeals would need to reconsider whether Robins had standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to file the lawsuit. The Court ruled at the time that Robins had to demonstrate concrete injury that he had suffered to justify his lawsuit.
Talking to the law school students, Soumilas said this decision did impact his own case, although he believed that his case satisfies this new burden imposed by the Supreme Court. Oral arguments took place on March 30, and a ruling is expected sometime in June.
Soumilas did not speculate on the High Court’s decision but said that he felt very good about his case and his client’s chances. If the Court does rule in favor of TransUnion, it will have a significant impact on future class action lawsuits.
To see John Soumilas’ talk to the Berekley Law students, click here.
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