June 6, 2024

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a decision from the Middle District of Tennessee. It held that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) preempted a claim that information furnished to a background check provider constituted defamation. This case affirms that certain Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations do not interfere with FCRA regulations, such as reports furnished to a consumer reporting agency (CRA).

In this case, a former truck driver claimed that a prior employer defamed him. The employer had submitted a report to a background check provider that collected information about drivers. In it, the employer claimed he had been in an accident. The worker clarified that it happened in February 2017 when the former worker’s tractor-trailer overturned. The report also claimed he had an unsatisfactory safety record.

According to the case, anyone could request this information from the background check provider. This realization led to the plaintiff suing his former employer. He claimed defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship. Furthermore, the report implied that he had caused the accident. He also added that it harmed his ability to find subsequent employment. However, the CRA’s records clarified that employers never requested a copy of his report.

The employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the FCRA, 15 USC § 1681, preempted the plaintiff’s claims. The plaintiff responded by asserting that a DOT regulation, 49 CFR § 391.23, applied to the situation and allowed his defamation claim. This regulation protects motor carriers against defamation claims for providing safety performance history except against those “who knowingly furnish false information.” 

The plaintiff also moved to defer the motion for additional discovery and obtain the documents sent to the insurer. However, the district court denied the motion for discovery. It found that the motion would not impact the motion for summary judgment, so the court granted the defense’s motion. The plaintiff appealed this decision, arguing that the district court erred in deciding that the FCRA preempted the defamation claim. He further implied that it abused its discretion in refusing the motion for additional discovery. However, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Court of Appeals found that the FCRA does preempt the claim of defamation. According to the law, “[any] person shall not furnish any information relating to a consumer to any consumer reporting agency if the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the information is inaccurate.” Furthermore, it prohibits any state from imposing a requirement “[concerning] any subject matter regulated under” the FCRA. Thus, the court concluded that the FCRA applied to these claims.

Furthermore, the plaintiff failed to establish that the employer had “knowingly” provided false information. As a result, the DOT law did not apply, and the FCRA preempted the plaintiff’s claim. As for claiming that the court abused its discretion, the Sixth Circuit found that parties are not entitled to use discovery to develop new claims. As such, the lower court correctly denied the request and affirmed the grant of summary judgment.

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Information provided here is for educational and informational purposes only and should not constitute as legal advice. We recommend you contact your own legal counsel for any questions regarding your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

 

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