TRW Inc. v. Andrews - 534 U.S. 19
OCTOBER TERM, 2001
TRW INC. v. ANDREWS
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 00-1045. Argued October 9, 200l-Decided November 13,2001
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA or Act) requires credit reporting agencies, inter alia, to maintain "reasonable procedures" to avoid improper disclosures of consumer credit information. 15 U. S. C. § 1681e(a). The Act's limitations provision prescribes that an action to enforce any liability created under the Act must be brought "within two years from the date on which the liability arises, except that where a defendant has ... willfully misrepresented any information required under [the Act] to be disclosed to [the plaintiff] and the information ... is material to [a claim under the Act], the action may be brought at any time within two years after [the plaintiff's] discovery of the misrepresentation." § 1681p.
Plaintiff-respondent Adelaide Andrews visited a doctor's office in Santa Monica, California, and there filled out a form listing her name, Social Security number, and other basic information. An office receptionist named Andrea Andrews (the Impostor) copied the data and moved to Las Vegas, where she attempted to open credit accounts using Andrews' Social Security number and her own last name and address.
On July 25, September 27, and October 28, 1994, and on January 3, 1995, defendant-petitioner TRW Inc. furnished copies of Andrews' credit report to companies from which the Impostor sought credit. Andrews did not learn of these disclosures until May 31, 1995, when she sought to refinance her home and in the process received a copy of her credit report reflecting the Impostor's activity. She sued TRW for injunctive and monetary relief on October 21, 1996, alleging that TRW had violated the Act by failing to verify, predisclosure of her credit report to third parties, that Adelaide Andrews of Santa Monica initiated the credit applications or was otherwise involved in the underlying transactions. TRW moved for partial summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the FCRA's statute of limitations had expired on Andrews' claims stemming from TRW's first two disclosures because both occurred more than two years before she brought suit. Andrews countered that the limitations period on those claims did not commence until she discovered the disclosures. The District Court held the two claims time barred, reasoning that § 1681p's explicit exception, which covers only misrepresentation claims, precludes judicial attribution of a broader discovery rule
to the FCRA. The Ninth Circuit reversed, applying what it considered to be the "general federal rule" that a statute of limitations starts running when a party knows or has reason to know she was injured, unless Congress expressly legislates otherwise.
1. A general discovery rule does not govern § 1681p. That section explicitly delineates the exceptional case in which discovery triggers the two-year limitation, and Andrews' case does not fall within the exceptional category. pp. 27-33.
(a) Even if the Ninth Circuit correctly identified a general presumption in favor of a discovery rule, an issue this case does not oblige this Court to decide, the Appeals Court significantly overstated the scope and force of such a presumption. That court placed undue weight on Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U. S. 392, 397, which stands for the proposition that equity tolls the statute of limitations in cases of fraud or concealment, but does not establish a general presumption across all contexts. The only other cases in which the Court has recognized a prevailing discovery rule, moreover, were decided in two contexts, latent disease and medical malpractice, "where the cry for [such a] rule is loudest," Rotella v. Wood, 528 U. S. 549, 555. See United States v. Kubrick, 444 U. S. 111; Urie v. Thompson, 337 U. S. 163. The Court has also observed that lower federal courts generally apply a discovery rule when a statute is silent on the issue, but has not adopted that rule as its own. Further, and beyond doubt, the Court has never endorsed the Ninth Circuit's view that Congress can convey its refusal to adopt a discovery rule only by explicit command, rather than by implication from the particular statute's structure or text. Thus, even if the presumption identified by the Ninth Circuit exists, it would not apply to the FCRA, for that Act does not govern an area of the law that cries out for application of a discovery rule and is not silent on the issue of when the statute of limitations begins to run. Pp. 27-28.
(b) Section 1681p's text and structure evince Congress' intent to preclude judicial implication of a discovery rule. Where Congress explicitly enumerates certain exceptions to a general prohibition, additional exceptions are not to be implied, in the absence of evidence of a contrary legislative intent. Andrus v. Glover Constr. Co., 446 U. S. 608, 616-617. Section 1681p provides that the limitation period generally runs from the date "liability arises," subject to a single exception for cases involving a defendant's willful misrepresentation of material information. It would distort § 1681p's text to convert the exception into the rule. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U. S. 163, 168. Pp. 28-29.