United States v. Bormes

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: James X. Bormes
LOCATION: General Revenue Corporation

DOCKET NO.: 11-192
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

CITATION: 568 US (2012)
GRANTED: Jan 13, 2012
ARGUED: Oct 02, 2012
DECIDED: Nov 13, 2012

ADVOCATES:
John G. Jacobs - for the respondent
Sri Srinivasan - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In October 2000, the United States Treasury Department launched Pay.gov, a billing and payment processing system that allows consumers to make online payments to government agencies by credit or debit card. Numerous government agencies use Pay.gov to process credit and debit payments. On August 9, 2008, attorney James X Bormes filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of his clients in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, paying the filing fee with a credit card via Pay.gov. The confirmation page displayed the expiration date of Bormes' credit card.

Bormes alleged that the inclusion of his card's expiration date violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"); he brought this action on behalf of himself and a class of individual cardholders. The statute provides that no person accepting credit or debit cards for a business transaction shall print more than the last 5 digits of the card or the expiration date on any receipt provided to the cardholder after a transaction. The government filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. The district court concluded that it had jurisdiction under the FCRA, but granted the government's motion to dismiss because the FCRA did not waive the government's sovereign immunity. It held that Bormes' invocation of the Little Tucker Act was moot because the court had jurisdiction under the FCRA.

On appeal, a motions panel denied the government's motion to transfer to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. It held that Bormes' complaint invoked the district court's jurisdiction under the Little Tucker Act; the Little Tucker Act grants jurisdiction to district courts over claims against the United States not exceeding $10,000. Afterwards, a panel of the Seventh Circuit determined that the Little Tucker Act waives sovereign immunity for the FCRA in Talley v. U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Seventh Circuit later vacated this opinion; the Talley case remains pending. Bormes appealed his case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which determined that the FCRA mandates money damages from the federal government, giving jurisdiction to the district courts through the Little Tucker Act.

Question

Does the Little Tucker Act waive the sovereign immunity of the United States for claims of damages arising from violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act?

Media for United States v. Bormes

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 02, 2012 in United States v. Bormes

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 13, 2012 in United States v. Bormes

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has the opinion of the Court in our first case this term, No. 11-192, United States versus Bormes.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Respondent, James Bormes, is an attorney who filed a putative class action against the United States in District Court, seeking damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act of FCRA.

Bormes alleged that he paid a $350 federal court filing fee for a client using his own credit card on pay.gov, the email thing, which is an interest-based system used by federal courts to process online payments.

According to Bormes, his pay.gov electronic receipt included the last four digits of his credit card in addition to its expiration date, which he says is in willful violation of FCRA.

FCRA provides among other things that receipt can have “no more than the last five digits of the card number or the expiration date.”

Bormes sought damages under the Act which imposes civil liability on “any person who willfully fails to comply with its requirements and defines any person to include any government or governmental subdivision or agency.”

FCRA contains its own jurisdictional provision.

Section 1681(p) of Title 15 authorizes suit to enforce liability “in any United States District Court without regard to the amount of controversy or in any other court of competent jurisdiction.”

Bormes asserted jurisdiction under this provision, as well as under the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C Section 1346(a)(2), which grants District Court's original jurisdiction concurrent with the Court of Federal Claims of “any civil action or claim against the United States not exceeding $10,000 in amount founded upon any Act of Congress.

The District Court dismissed the suit holding that FCRA does not contain the explicit waiver of sovereign immunity necessary to permit damages action against the United States.

But the Federal Circuit vacated the District Court's decision without deciding whether FCRA itself contained the necessary immunity waiver.

The Court held that Little Tucker Act provided the Government's consent to suit for violation of FCRA because FCRA “can fairly be interpreted as mandating compensation by the Federal Government for the damage sustained.”

We granted certiorari and today vacate the federal court's -- the Federal Circuit's judgment.

The Little Tucker Act is one statute that provides the Federal Government's consent to suit for certain money damages claims premised on other sources of law.

The Tucker Act's jurisdictional grant and the company immunity waiver supplies the missing ingredient for an action against the United States for the breach of monetary obligations that would not otherwise be enforceable in court.

But a detailed remedial scheme supercedes the gap-filling role and general terms of the -- of the Tucker Act.

FCRA's provision set out a cause of action for damages liability and defines the appropriate form for judicial enforcement, whereas in FCRA, a statute contains its own self-executing remedial scheme.

We look only to that statute to determine whether Congress intended to subject the United States to damages liability.

We do not decide today whether FCRA itself waives the Federal Government's immunity to damages actions.

That is a question to be considered on remand, but whether or not FCRA contains the necessary waiver, any attempt to append a Tucker Act remedy to the statute's existing remedial scheme interferes with the scope of liability Congress intended under the statute.

The Federal Circuit was therefore wrong to conclude that the Tucker Act justified applying a more relaxed sovereign immunity analysis to FCRA than our cases required.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion which -- which would include transfer of the case to the appropriate federal court other than the Federal Circuit.

The Court's decision is unanimous.