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SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
UNITED STATES, PETITIONER v.
on writ of certiorari to the united states
court of appeals for the federal circuit
[November 13, 2012]
Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the
The Little Tucker Act, 28 U. S. C.
§1346(a)(2), provides that “[t]he district courts shall
have original jurisdiction, concurrent with the United States Court
of Federal Claims, of . . . [a]ny. . . civil
action or claim against the United States, not exceeding $10,000 in
amount, founded . . . upon . . . any Act of
Congress.” We consider whether the Little Tucker Act waives
the sovereign immunity of the United States with respect to damages
actions for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15
U. S. C. §1681 et seq.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act has as one of
its purposes to “protect consumer privacy.” Safeco
Ins. Co. of America
, 551 U.S.
, 52 (2007); see 84Stat. 1128, 15 U. S. C.
§1681. To that end, FCRA provides, among other things, that
“no person that accepts credit cards or debit cards for the
transaction of business shall print more than the last 5 digits of
the card number or
the expiration date upon any receipt
provided to the cardholder at the point of the sale or
transaction.” §1681c(g)(1) (emphasis added). The Act
defines “person” as “any individual, partnership,
corporation, trust, estate, cooperative, association, government or
governmental subdivision or agency, or other entity.”
FCRA imposes civil liability for willful or
negligent noncompliance with its requirements: “Any person
who willfully fails to comply” with the Act “with
respect to any consumer,” “is liable to that
consumer” for actual damages or damages “of not less
than $100 and not more than $1,000,” as well as punitive
damages, attorney’s fees, and costs. §1681n(a); see also
(civil liability for negligent noncompliance).
The Act includes a jurisdictional provision, which provides that
“[a]n action to enforce any liability created under this
subchapter may be brought in any appropriate United States district
court, without regard to the amount in controversy, or in any other
court of competent jurisdiction” within the earlier of
“2 years after the date of discovery by the plaintiff of the
violation that is the basis for such liability” or “5
years after the date on which the violation that is the basis for
such liability occurs.” §1681p.
Respondent James X. Bormes is an attorney who
filed a putative class action against the United States in the
United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
seeking damages under FCRA. Bormes alleged that he paid a $350
federal-court filing fee for a client using his own credit card on
Pay.gov, an Internet-based system used by federal courts and dozens
of federal agencies to process online payment transactions.
According to Bormes, his Pay.gov electronic receipt included the
last four digits of his credit card, in addition to
expiration date, in willful violation of §1681c(g)(1). He
claimed that he and thousands of similarly situated persons were
entitled to recover damages under §1681n, and asserted
jurisdiction under §1681p, as well as under the Little Tucker
Act, 28 U. S. C. §1346(a)(2).
The District Court dismissed the suit, holding
that FCRA does not contain the explicit waiver of sovereign
immunity necessary to permit a damages suit against the United
States. 638 F. Supp. 2d 958, 962 (ND Ill. 2009). The court did not
address the Little Tucker Act as an asserted basis for
jurisdiction. Respondent appealed to the Federal Circuit, which has
exclusive jurisdiction “of an appeal from a final decision of
a district court of the United States . . . if the
jurisdiction of that court was based, in whole or in part,
on” the Little Tucker Act. 28 U. S. C.
§1295(a)(2). Arguing that the Little Tucker Act’s
jurisdictional grant did not apply to respondent’s suit, the
Government moved to transfer the appeal to the Seventh Circuit.
The Federal Circuit denied the transfer motion
and went on to vacate the District Court’s decision. Without
deciding whether FCRA itself contained the requisite waiver of
sovereign immunity, the court held that the Little Tucker Act
provided the Government’s consent to suit for violation of
FCRA. The court explained that the Little Tucker Act applied
because FCRA “ ‘can fairly be interpreted as
mandating compensation by the Federal Government for the damage
sustained.’ ” 626 F.3d 574, 578 (2010) (quoting
v. White Mountain Apache Tribe
, 472 (2003)). This “fair interpretation” rule,
the court explained, “demands a showing ‘demonstrably
lower’ than the initial waiver of sovereign immunity”
contained in the Little Tucker Act itself. 626 F. 3d, at 578.
The court reasoned that FCRA satisfied the “fair
interpretation” rule because its damages provision applies to
“any person” who willfully violates its requirements,
15 U. S. C. §1681n(a), and the Act elsewhere defines
“person” to include “any . . .
government,” §1681a(b). 626 F. 3d, at 580. The Federal
Circuit remanded to the District Court for further proceedings. We
granted certiorari, 565 U. S. ___ (2012).
Sovereign immunity shields the United States
from suit absent a consent to be sued that is
“ ‘unequivocally expressed.’ ”
v. Nordic Village, Inc.
, 503 U.S.
, 33–34 (1992) (quoting Irwin
of Veterans Affairs
, 498 U.S.
, 95 (1990); some internal quotation marks omitted). The
Little Tucker Act is one statute that unequivocally provides the
Federal Government’s consent to suit for certain
money-damages claims. United States
, 216 (1983) (Mitchell II
). Subject to
exceptions not relevant here, the Little Tucker Act provides that
“district courts shall have original jurisdiction, concurrent
with the United States Court of Federal Claims,” of a
“civil action or claim against the United States, not
exceeding $10,000 in amount, founded either upon the Constitution,
or any Act of Congress, or any regulation of an executive
department, or upon any express or implied contract with the United
States, or for liquidated or unliquidated damages in cases not
sounding in tort.” 28 U. S. C.
] The Little
Tucker Act and its companion statute, the Tucker Act,
] do not
themselves “creat[e] substantive rights,” but
“are simply jurisdictional provisions that operate to waive
sovereign immunity for claims premised on other sources of
law.” United States
v. Navajo Nation
, 556 U.S.
, 290 (2009).
Bormes argues that whether or not FCRA itself
unam-biguously waives sovereign immunity, the Little Tucker Act
authorizes his FCRA damages claim against the United States. The
question, then, is whether a damages claim under FCRA “falls
within the terms of the Tucker Act,” so that “the
United States has presumptively consented to suit.”
, at 216. It does not. Where, as in
FCRA, a statute contains its own self-executing remedial scheme, we
look only to that statute to determine whether Congress intended to
subject the United States to dam- ages liability.
The Court of Claims was established, and the
Tucker Act enacted, to open a judicial avenue for certain mone-tary
claims against the United States. Before the creation of the Court
of Claims in 1855, see Act of Feb. 24, 1855 (1855 Act), ch. 122,
§1, 10Stat. 612, it was not uncommon for statutes to impose
monetary obligations on the United States without specifying a
means of judicial enforcement.[3
] As a result, claimants routinely petitioned Congress
for private bills to recover money owed by the Federal Government.
See Mitchell II
, at 212 (citing P. Bator, P.
Mishkin, D. Shapiro & H. Wechsler, Hart and Wechsler’s
The Federal Courts and the Federal System 98 (2d ed. 1973)). As
this individualized legislative process became increasingly
burdensome for Congress, the Court of Claims was created “to
relieve the pressure on Congress caused by the volume of private
bills.” Glidden Co.
, 370 U.S.
, 552 (1962) (plurality opinion). The 1855 Act authorized
the Court of Claims to hear claims against the United States
“founded upon any law of Congress,” §1, 10Stat.
612, and thus allowed claimants to sue the Federal Government for
monetary relief premised on other sources of law. (Specialized
legislation remained necessary to authorize the payments approved
by the Court of Claims until 1863, when Congress empowered the
court to enter final judgments. See Act of Mar. 3, 1863 (1863 Act),
ch. 92, 12Stat. 765; Mitchell II
212–214 (recounting the history of the Court of Claims)).
Enacted in 1887, the Tucker Act was the
successor statute to the 1855 and 1863 Acts and replaced most of
their provisions. See Act of Mar. 3, 1887 (1887 Act), ch. 359,
24Stat. 505; Mitchell II
, at 213–214.
Like the 1855 Act before it, the Tucker Act provided the Federal
Government’s consent to suit in the Court of Claims for
claims “founded upon . . . any law of
Congress.” 1887 Act §1, 24Stat. 505. Section 2 of the
1887 Act created concurrent jurisdiction in the district courts for
claims of up to $1,000. The Tucker Act’s jurisdictional
grant, and accompanying immunity waiver, supplied the missing
ingredient for an action against the United States for the breach
of monetary obligations not otherwise judicially
The Tucker Act is displaced, however, when a
law assertedly imposing monetary liability on the United States
contains its own judicial remedies. In that event, the specific
remedial scheme establishes the exclusive framework for the
liability Congress created under the statute. Because a
“precisely drawn, detailed statute pre-empts more general
v. United States
, 550 U.S.
, 506 (2007) (quoting EC Term of Years Trust
, 550 U.S.
, 434 (2007); internal quotation marks omitted),
FCRA’s self-executing remedial scheme supersedes the
gap-filling role of the Tucker Act.
We have long recognized that an additional
remedy in the Court of Claims is foreclosed when it contradicts the
limits of a precise remedial scheme. In Nichols
, 7 Wall. 122, 131 (1869), the issue was whether the 1855
Act authorized suit in the Court of Claims for improper assessment
of duties on imported liquor that had already been paid without
protest. The Court held that it did not. The revenue laws already
provided a remedy: An aggrieved merchant could sue to recover the
tax, but only after paying the duty under protest. Act of Feb. 26,
1845, ch. 22, 5Stat. 727. The Court rejected the supposition
that “Congress, after having carefully constructed a revenue
system, with ample provisions to redress wrong, intended to give to
the taxpayer and importer a further and different remedy.” 7
Wall., at 131. Permitting suit under the 1855 Act, the Court
concluded, would frustrate congressional intent with respect to the
specific remedial scheme already in place. The 1855 Act was
confined to a gap-filling role. As we said in a later case,
“the general laws which govern the Court of Claims may be
resorted to for relief” only because “[n]o special
remedy has been provided” to enforce a payment to which the
claimant was entitled. United States
, 569 (1878). Where the “liability is one created by
statute,” the “special remedy provided by the same
statute is exclusive.” Ibid.
Our more recent cases have consistently held
that statutory schemes with their own remedial framework exclude
alternative relief under the general terms of the Tucker Act. See,
; United States
, 484 U.S.
(1988); United States
v. Erika, Inc.
(1982). Respondent contends that in each of those cases
Congress had unambiguously demonstrated its intent to foreclose
additional review by the Court of Federal Claims—whereas
here, no similar intent to preclude Tucker Act jurisdiction is
apparent. See Brief for Respondent 27–28. But our precedents
collectively stand for a more basic proposition: Where a specific
statutory scheme provides the accoutrements of a judicial action,
the metes and bounds of the liability Congress intended to create
can only be divined from the text of the statute itself.[5
, for example, we held that the
Tax Court provides the exclusive forum for suits under 26
U. S. C. §6404(h), which authorizes judicial review
of the Secre-tary’s decision not to abate interest under
§6404(e)(1). We relied on “our past recognition that
when Congress enacts a specific remedy when no remedy was
previously recognized . . . the remedy provided is
generally regarded as exclusive.” 550 U. S., at 506.
Section 6404(h), we concluded, “fits the bill”: it
“provides a forum for adjudication, a limited class of
potential plaintiffs, a statute of limitations, a standard of
review, and authorization for judicial relief.” Ibid.
It did not matter that Congress “fail[ed] explicitly to
define the Tax Court’s jurisdiction as exclusive.”
We found it “quite plain that the terms of
§6404(h)—a ‘precisely drawn, detailed
statute’ filling a perceived hole in the law—control
all requests for review of §6404(e)(1) determinations.”
Like §6404(h), FCRA creates a detailed
remedial scheme. Its provisions “set out a carefully
circumscribed, time-limited, plaintiff-specific” cause of
action, and “also precisely define the appropriate
, at 507. It authorizes aggrieved consumers
to hold “any person” who “willfully” or
“negligent[ly]” fails to comply with the Act’s
requirements liable for specified damages. 15 U. S. C.
. Claims to enforce liability
must be brought within a specified limitations period, §1681p,
and jurisdiction will lie “in any appropriate United States
dis- trict court, without regard to the amount in controversy, or
in any other court of competent jurisdiction.” Ibid.
Without resort to the Tucker Act, FCRA enables claimants to pursue
in court the monetary relief contemplated by the statute.
Plaintiffs cannot, therefore, mix and match
FCRA’s provisions with the Little Tucker Act’s immunity
waiver to create an action against the United States. Since FCRA is
a detailed remedial scheme, only its own
determine whether the damages liability Congress crafted extends to
the Federal Government. To hold otherwise—to permit
plaintiffs to remedy the absence of a waiver of sovereign immunity
in specific, detailed statutes by pleading general Tucker Act
jurisdiction—would transform the sovereign-immunity
The Federal Circuit was therefore wrong to
conclude that the Tucker Act justified applying a “less
stringent” sovereign-immunity analysis to FCRA than our cases
require. 626 F. 3d, at 582. It distorted our case law in
applying to FCRA the immunity-waiver standard we expressed in
White Mountain Apache Tribe
, 537 U. S., at 472: whether
the statute “ ‘can fairly be interpreted as
mandating compensation by the Federal Government for the damage
sustained.’ ” 626 F. 3d, at 578. That is the
test for determining whether a statute that imposes an obligation
but does not provide the elements of a cause of action qualifies
for suit under the Tucker Act—more specifically, whether the
failure to perform an obligation undoubtedly imposed on the Federal
Government creates a right to monetary relief. See White
Mountain Apache Tribe
; Mitchell II
. That test is not relevant when a “mandate of
compensation” is contained in a statute that provides a
detailed judicial remedy against those who are subject to its
requirements. FCRA is such a statute. By using the “fair
interpretation” test to determine whether FCRA’s civil
liability provisions apply to the United States, the Federal
Circuit directed the test to a purpose for which it was not
designed and leapfrogged the threshold concern that the Tucker Act
cannot be superimposed on an existing remedial scheme.
* * *
We do not decide here whether FCRA itself
waives the Federal Government’s immunity to damages actions
under §1681n. That question is for the Seventh Circuit to
consider once this case is transferred to it on remand. But whether
or not FCRA contains the necessary waiver of immunity, any attempt
to append a Tucker Act remedy to the statute’s existing
remedial scheme interferes with its intended scope of
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated,
and the case remanded with instructions to transfer the case to the
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.