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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Little Tucker Act Can’t Revive Lawyer’s Suit

WASHINGTON (CN) - Claims over an e-filing defect that allegedly published the expiration dates of attorney credit cards to the Internet will play out in the 7th Circuit, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Attorney James Bormes used his credit card to pay the e-filing fee for a lawsuit he filed on behalf of one of his clients. After processing the transaction, the government's pay.gov system sent Bormes a confirmation webpage that allegedly contained his credit card's expiration date.

Bormes filed a federal class action against the government in Illinois, claiming that its printing of credit card expiration dates violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as codified in Section 1681.

After a federal judge dismissed the case, explaining that the FCRA did not waive the government's sovereign immunity, Bormes appealed to the Federal Circuit. He said that the Little Tucker Act creates jurisdiction in waiving sovereign immunity for FCRA claims.

On that basis, the Washington-based federal appeals court refused to transfer the case to the 7th Circuit and revived Bormes' claims in 2010.

In unanimously vacating that decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court noted that a damages claim under FCRA does not falls within the terms of the Tucker Act, implicating consent by the United States to suit.

"The Tucker Act is displaced ... when a law as­sertedly imposing monetary liability on the United States contains its own judicial remedies," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court. "In that event, the specific remedial scheme establishes the exclusive frame­work for the liability Congress created under the statute. Because a 'precisely drawn, detailed statute pre-empts more general remedies,' FCRA's self-executing remedial scheme super­sedes the gap-filling role of the Tucker Act."

Later in the 13-page decision, Scalia adds: "Without resort to the Tucker Act, FCRA enables claimants to pursue in court the monetary relief contemplated by the statute.

"Plaintiffs cannot, therefore, mix and match FCRA's provisions with the Little Tucker Act's immunity waiver to create an action against the United States. Since FCRA is a detailed remedial scheme, only its own text can de­termine whether the damages liability Congress crafted extends to the federal government. To hold otherwise - to permit plaintiffs to remedy the absence of a waiver of sovereign immunity in specific, detailed statutes by plead­ing general Tucker Act jurisdiction - would transform the sovereign-immunity landscape." (Emphasis in original.)

"The Federal Circuit was therefore wrong to conclude that the Tucker Act justified applying a 'less stringent' sovereign-immunity analysis to FCRA than our cases require," Scalia continued.

In finding otherwise, the lower court "distorted our case law" and "leapfrogged the threshold concern that the Tucker Act cannot be superimposed on an existing remedial scheme," according to the decision.

On remand, the 7th Circuit must decide "whether FCRA itself waives the federal government's immunity to damages actions under §1681n."

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