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TRW Inc. v. Andrews

November 13, 2001

TRW INC., PETITIONER
v.
ADELAIDE ANDREWS



Court Below: 225 F. 3d 1063

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA or Act) requires credit reporting agencies, inter alia, to maintain "reasonable procedures" to avoid improper disclosures of consumer credit information. 15 U. S. C. §1681e(a). The Act's limitations provision prescribes that an action to enforce any liability created under the Act must be brought "within two years from the date on which the liability arises, except that where a defendant has ... willfully misrepresented any information required under [the Act] to be disclosed to [the plaintiff] and the information ... is material to [a claim under the Act], the action may be brought at any time within two years after [the plaintiff's] discovery of the misrepresentation." §1681p.

Plaintiff-respondent Adelaide Andrews visited a doctor's office in Santa Monica, California and there filled out a form listing her name, Social Security number, and other basic information. An office receptionist named Andrea Andrews (the Impostor) copied the data and moved to Las Vegas, where she attempted to open credit accounts using Andrews' Social Security number and her own last name and address.

On July 25, September 27, and October 28, 1994, and on January 3, 1995, defendant-petitioner TRW Inc. furnished copies of Andrews' credit report to companies from which the Impostor sought credit. Andrews did not learn of these disclosures until May 31, 1995, when she sought to refinance her home and in the process received a copy of her credit report reflecting the Impostor's activity. She sued TRW for injunctive and monetary relief on October 21, 1996, alleging that TRW had violated the Act by failing to verify, predisclosure of her credit report to third parties, that Adelaide Andrews of Santa Monica initiated the credit applications or was otherwise involved in the underlying transactions. TRW moved for partial summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the FCRA's statute of limitations had expired on Andrews' claims stemming from TRW's first two disclosures because both occurred more than two years before she brought suit. Andrews countered that the limitations period on those claims did not commence until she discovered the disclosures. The District Court held the two claims time barred, reasoning that §1681p's explicit exception, which covers only misrepresentation claims, precludes judicial attribution of a broader discovery rule to the FCRA. The Ninth Circuit reversed, applying what it considered to be the "general federal rule" that a statute of limitations starts running when a party knows or has reason to know she was injured, unless Congress expressly legislates otherwise.

Held:

1. A general discovery rule does not govern §1681p. That section explicitly delineates the exceptional case in which discovery triggers the two-year limitation, and Andrews' case does not fall within the exceptional category. Pp. 6-13.

(a) Even if the Ninth Circuit correctly identified a general presumption in favor of a discovery rule, an issue this case does not oblige this Court to decide, the Appeals Court significantly overstated the scope and force of such a presumption. That court placed undue weight on Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U. S. 392, 397, which stands for the proposition that equity tolls the statute of limitations in cases of fraud or concealment, but does not establish a general presumption across all contexts. The only other cases in which the Court has recognized a prevailing discovery rule, moreover, were decided in two contexts, latent disease and medical malpractice, "where the cry for [such a] rule is loudest," Rotella v. Wood, 528 U. S. 549, 555. See United States v. Kubrick, Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Thomas, J., joined.

534 U. S. ____ (2001)

On Writ Of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case concerns the running of the two-year statute of limitations governing suits based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA or Act), as added, 84 Stat. 1127, and amended, 15 U. S. C. §1681 et seq. (1994 ed. and Supp. V).*fn1 The time prescription appears in §1681p, which sets out a general rule and an exception. Generally, an action to enforce any liability created by the Act may be brought "within two years from the date on which the liability arises." The exception covers willful misrepresentation of "any information required under [the Act] to be disclosed to [the plaintiff]": when such a representation is material to a claim under the Act, suit may be brought "within two years after [the plaintiff's] discovery ... of the misrepresentation."

Section 1681p's exception is not involved in this case; the complaint does not allege misrepresentation of information that the FCRA "require[s] ... to be disclosed to [the plaintiff]." Plaintiff-respondent Adelaide Andrews nevertheless contends, and the Ninth Circuit held, that §1681p's generally applicable two-year limitation commenced to run on Andrews' claims only upon her discovery of defendant-petitioner TRW Inc.'s alleged violations of the Act.

We hold that a discovery rule does not govern §1681p. That section explicitly delineates the exceptional case in which discovery triggers the two-year limitation. We are not at liberty to make Congress' explicit exception the general rule as well.

I.

A

Congress enacted the FCRA in 1970 to promote efficiency in the Nation's banking system and to protect consumer privacy. See 15 U. S. C. §1681(a) (1994 ed.). As relevant here, the Act seeks to accomplish those goals by requiring credit reporting agencies to maintain "reasonable procedures" designed "to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information" contained in credit reports, §1681e(b), and to "limit the furnishing of [such reports] to" certain statutorily enumerated purposes, §1681e(a); 15 U. S. C. §1681b (1994 ed. and Supp. V). The Act creates a private right of action allowing injured consumers to recover "any ...


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