Experian Gets Pounded by Federal Court of Appeals

Hi all,

It’s a glorious day for consumer protection not only in the Western states but throughout the country! The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the Federal Court of Appeals for California and for some other western states, decided Dennis v. Experian yesterday strongly in favor of consumer rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

I know that this may sound a bit legal at this point, but hey, I’m a lawyer, but I’ll try to describe this in non-legal language. Dennis v. Beh was a decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit about six months ago or so. Among other things, Dennis v. Beh held that a credit bureau, such as Experian, had a complete right to rely strictly on the information being provided to it by the credit information furnisher without having to conduct its own independent investigation of the facts.

Dennis, the tenant, reached a settlement agreement with Beh, his landlord, over unpaid rent on an apartment. The settlement agreement included that the landlord would not enter a judgment against Dennis. Experian credit-reported that Beh had a judgment against Dennis, and Dennis disputed with Experian, repeatedly, by providing them with documents showing that the settlement agreement called for no judgment to be entered. Experian, however, had had its court checking service go to the courthouse, where there was an erroneous entry about a judgment which was later corrected. No matter. Experian positively refused to change the credit-reporting, and thereby damaged Dennis’ credit report and credit score.

In the first Dennis case of about six months ago, the Court of Appeals had ruled that Experian was allowed to rely on its court check service and on Beh, and did not have to conduct its own independent investigation of disputed credit items. This obviously would be a huge windfall for Experian and a huge defeat for consumers, for it would have allowed Experian and all other credit bureaus to completely disclaim responsibility for the contents of their credit reports, even if demonstrably false and damaging.

However, the latest Dennis decision positively reverses on a credit bureaus’ obligations to conduct its own independent investigations of disputed credit information. No longer can credit bureaus sit back, with utterly no responsibility, while false and damaging credit information builds up in their files. A credit bureau has a positive duty to conduct a reasonable investigation.

What is a reasonable investigation? I would not leave it to chance. If you’re disputing information in your credit report, include copies of any and all information which would help the credit bureau do the right thing. This could include copies of court papers or judgments, declarations from your creditors, any documentation to show the credit bureau that your dispute is sincere. Obviously send copies only, not originals, and keep a copy of anything you send. If you have to hire our firm later on to help you remove the false credit information, having copies of what you’ve sent to the credit bureaus is often the most important part of any case.

Thanks for reading!

Bob Brennan

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