March 30, 2012
On March 28, 2012 the Supreme Court announced its decision in Federal Aviation Administration v. Cooper. This case involves the Privacy Act, which governs the manner in which executive branch agencies collect, use and disseminate records containing information about individuals. The Act authorizes an award of money damages to an individual who establishes that government misuse of such records was intentional or willful and resulted in the individual suffering “actual damages.” The question here was whether mental and emotional injuries qualify as “actual damages” under the Privacy Act.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Alito, the Court held by a vote of 5-3 that mental and emotional distress does not constitute “actual damages” under the Privacy Act. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas joined Justice Alito’s opinion. Justice Sotomayor field a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Bryer. Justice Kagan did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case.
To discuss the case, we have Richard Peltz-Steele, who is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law-Dartmouth.