The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the federal government does not always lose its sovereign immunity to damages lawsuits claiming that an agency violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (“FACTA”) by printing the expiration date of a credit card on a receipt issued to a consumer. In a unanimous decision, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court rejected a November 2010 ruling by the Federal Circuit that the Little Tucker Act authorized the government to be sued for money damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), which FACTA amended.
James Bormes, a Chicago lawyer, paid a $350 court filing fee through the federal government’s pay.gov system with his American Express card. He was sent an electronic receipt for the transaction, which contained his credit card’s expiration date. Bormes alleged that this violated FACTA’s prohibition on printing expiration dates on credit card receipts issued at the point of sale. He sued the government, seeking class-action status on behalf of thousands of people issued receipts that displayed card expiration dates or more than the last five digits of credit and debit card numbers (which FACTA also prohibits).
The district court initially dismissed the suit, finding that the FCRA does not contain an explicit waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity and could, therefore, not allow for the plaintiff’s damages claims. Bormes appealed to the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction for appeals in which a lower court’s jurisdiction was based partly on the Little Tucker Act. The government moved to transfer the suit to the Seventh Circuit, arguing that the Act’s jurisdictional provision did not apply. The Federal Circuit denied the motion and vacated the lower court’s ruling. The federal government then took the sovereign immunity issue to the Supreme Court.