Private actions under the California’s Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act are preempted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act

Greatsealcal100There has been a fair bit of speculation that the weak economy would generate a substantial amount of consumer class action activity in areas of finance, including lending, consumer credit and debt collection.  In California, the door to one such area was slammed shut, absent action by the California Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court.  In Liceaga v. Debt Recovery Solutions LLC (December 29, 2008) the Court of Apppeal (First Appellate District, Division One) held that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act completely preemted private rights of action under California's Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act. 

Plaintiff and appellant Rebecca Liceaga, apparently the victim of identity theft, filed a complaint against Debt Recovery Solutions, LLC, a collection agency, for damages that she claims were caused when it furnished to a consumer credit reporting agency information about her which it knew or should have known was inaccurate. The complaint alleged a violation of California’s Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act, Civil Code section 1785.1 et seq. (CCRAA). The trial court granted defendant’s motion for judgment upon the pleadings upon the ground that any private right of action provided by the CCRAA is preempted by the corresponding federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.) (FCRA)).

In this appeal we are called upon to determine whether the FCRA preempts private rights of action as to “furnishers” of wrongful information and whether, if so, Congress has specifically excepted California actions from preemption. We conclude that private actions under the CCRAA are preempted, without exception, by FCRA.

(Slip op., at p. 1.)  The opinion that follows is a fairly standard analysis under the Supremacy Clause.  It is a loss for consumers, since economic downturns and debt collection misconduct have been known to loiter in each other's company.  Actions by California are not preempted, but it is a metaphysical certainty that cash-strapped California won't be keeping up with the prosecution of CCRAA actions at a level consistent with the likely rate of abuse.