Class Action Complaint Against Credit Reporting Agencies Alleging State Law Claims Arising from Sale of “Trigger Leads” to Mortgage Lenders Properly Dismissed because Class Action Claims were Preempted by Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Second Circuit Holds
Plaintiff, a mortgage lender, filed a putative class action against various consumer reporting agencies, including Equifax, Trans Union and Experian, alleging various state-law claims based on defendants’ “sale of mortgage ‘trigger leads’ to third party lenders”; the class action complaint explained that “trigger leads” reflect a consumer’s interest in obtaining a loan. Premium Mortgage Corp. v. Equifax, Inc., 583 F.3d 103, 2009 WL 3163225, *1 (2d Cir. 2009). According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint, “defendants’ practice of permitting other lenders to purchase ‘pre-screened’ consumer reports…that, in essence, contain trigger leads” results in the disclosure of “proprietary customer information” because “such information is not readily known in the industry and it cannot be obtained except through extraordinary effort.” Id. Specifically, “the prescreened reports in question use the information conveyed by a trigger lead as a screening criterion in order to generate a list of consumers who are in the market for mortgages and other loan facilities” and “[t]he lenders purchasing these lists then compete with plaintiff and similarly situated mortgage brokers by offering terms on loans to the customers.” Id. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the grounds that the claims were preempted by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA); the district court granted the motion and dismissed the class action. Id. The Second Circuit affirmed.
The Circuit Court reviewed the district court order de novo. Premium Mortgage, at *2. The Second Circuit readily affirmed the district court’s order with respect to “the bulk of plaintiff’s state common-law claims” based on the FCRA’s unambiguous language that “no requirement or prohibition may be imposed under the laws of any State … with respect to any subject matter regulated under … subsection (c) or (e) of section 1681b of this title, relating to the prescreening of consumer reports.” Id. (quoting § 1681t (b)(1)(A)). The class action’s claims concerned “consumer reports,” within the meaning of the FCRA, because “trigger leads are simply one of the constituent parts” of such reports; the Circuit Court therefore rejected plaintiff’s argument that “its claims are not preempted because the trigger leads themselves are not “consumer reports” under the FCRA.” Id. The Second Circuit also rejected plaintiff’s attempt to create a distinction, for preemption purposes, between the class action’s statutory and common-law claims. See id., at *2-*4. Because the claims fell squarely within the FCRA, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court order dismissing the class action complaint on grounds of preemption. Id., at *4.