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Safeco Insurance Co. of America et al. v. Burr et al.

United States Supreme Court
551 U.S. 47 (2007)


Safeco Insurance Company of America (Safeco) (plaintiff) relied on consumer-credit reports to determine the initial premiums charged to consumers. Based on the credit report that Safeco received for Charles Burr (defendant), Safeco charged Burr a higher rate than the best rate that was possible for someone who was insured by Safeco. Safeco did not notify Burr that in setting the premium, Safeco was taking an adverse action against Burr. Burr joined a class-action suit against Safeco, alleging that Safeco had willfully violated provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (Act), 15 U.S.C. §1681m(a), which required any individual or entity taking an adverse action based on a consumer’s credit report to notify the consumer of the action taken. Burr sought statutory and punitive damages based on 15 U.S.C. § 1681n(a), which provided that if the individual or entity taking the adverse action willfully failed to provide notice to the consumer, the consumer could recover actual, statutory, and punitive damages. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Safeco, holding that an initial determination of an insurance rate, such as the determination made by Safeco regarding Burr, was not adverse because an adverse action required a change or increase from a prior decision. The court of appeals reversed, finding that the adverse-notice requirement also applied to the setting of an initial insurance rate. The court of appeals further determined that the term “willful,” as used in § 1681n(a), included violations made with reckless disregard of the Act’s requirement. Based on this definition, the court of appeals found that Safeco’s conduct was willful. The United States Supreme Court grated certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Souter, J.)

Concurrence (Stevens, J.)

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