September 9, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Wisconsin. No. 3:15-cv-00300-slc Stephen L.
Crocker, Magistrate Judge.
Posner, Manion, and Williams, Circuit Judges.
POSNER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
reporting agencies prepare reports that provide information
about a person's finances- such things as bill-payment
history, loans, current debt, and other information (such as
where the person lives and works and, in some cases, whether
he or she has been sued or arrested). The information is
intended to help lenders decide whether to extend credit or
approve a loan and what interest rate to charge. Prospective
employers, insurers, and owners of rental property can obtain
the credit reports from the agency.
important to debtors that they check their credit reports
regularly, to ensure that the information in them is correct
and that no fraudulent accounts have been opened in their
name. A debtor who finds an inaccuracy can take steps to have
it corrected. See "Credit Reports and Scores/'
www.usa.gov/credit-reports (visited October 4, 2016,
as were the other websites cited in this opinion).
one of the three major American credit reporting agencies,
prepared a credit report which revealed, on the basis of
information that TransUnion had obtained from Toyota, that a
man named Jeffrey Brill was in arrears on a 2013 extension of
the lease of a car from Toyota. Brill told TransUnion that
his signature on the lease extension had been forged by a
former girlfriend named Kelly Pfeifer; that upon her signing
the extension it had become her lease, not his; and that he
therefore owed nothing to the lessor, Toyota. Invoking the
Fair Credit Reporting Act he demanded that TransUnion
"conduct a reasonable reinvestigation" to determine
whose lease it was, Brill's or Pfeifer's. See 15
U.S.C. § 1681i(a)(1)(A). TransUnion responded by asking
Toyota to confirm the accuracy of its report. Toyota did so,
though apparently just by noting that the name of the lessee
on the lease extension was Brill; it did not try, and was not
asked by TransUnion to try, to determine whether the
signature was a forgery.
claims that TransUnion's investigation of whether he or
Pfeifer had leased the car was not "reasonable"
within the meaning of the section of the Fair Credit
Reporting Act just cited, which provides (in the section
cited in the previous paragraph and here amplified) that
"if the completeness or accuracy of any item of
information contained in a consumer's [e.g., Brill's]
file at a consumer reporting agency is disputed by the
consumer and the consumer notifies the agency directly, or
indirectly through a reseller, of such dispute, the agency
shall, free of charge, conduct a reasonable reinvestigation
to determine whether the disputed information is inaccurate
and record the current status of the disputed
contends that TransUnion did not conduct an adequate
reinvestigation, which would (he argues) have required it to
do more than just ask Toyota (as it had done) to confirm the
accuracy of its report to TransUnion. The "more"
might be for TransUnion to hire a handwriting expert to
determine whether the signature on the lease extension was
Brill's or Pfeifer's, or maybe for TransUnion to
dispense with the expert and just ask the Toyota employees
who had been involved in the negotiation of the lease
extension to advise whether the signatures (the signature on
the original lease and the signature on the extension) were
of different persons or the same person. Brill contends that
the signatures were obviously of different persons,
but the contention cannot be evaluated because he hasn't
submitted the signatures in the litigation.
claims to have suffered adverse financial consequences from
TransUnion's credit report, which showed him as a
delinquent debtor on the car lease and-after he settled with
Toyota, which he had also sued-added that his obligation had
been written off as a bad debt, implying that Brill had
limited financial resources.
suit against TransUnion is based on the civil liability
provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C.
§§ 1681n(a), o(a), and p(a). The district court
dismissed the suit (precipitating this appeal) for failure to
state a claim, on the ground that TransUnion had no duty to
verify the accuracy of Brill's signature on the Toyota
lease, because Toyota, as the lessor, was in a better
position to determine the validity of its own lease.
That's to put it mildly. The lease extension that may
have been signed by Pfeifer rather than Brill was a document
created by Toyota. TransUnion had had nothing to do with it,
which is why upon receiving Brill's challenge to the
accuracy of its credit report it had asked Toyota to confirm
(or deny) the accuracy of the lease purportedly signed by
Brill. That was an appropriate procedure, especially as
TransUnion couldn't readily locate any other document
that might have resolved the issue. Cf. Henson v. CSC
Credit Services, 29 F.3d 280, 287 (7th Cir. 1994).
believing not without reason that Toyota's response
confirming that he was the lessee was too perfunctory to hold
up, Brill had sued Toyota; the parties had settled; and the
terms of the settlement were to be confidential and have
remained so. We not only have no idea of what those terms
might be and therefore no idea whether Brill has succeeded in
clearing the cloud on his credit (which if so would vitiate
the present suit); we haven't seen the signatures on the
lease extension, which are not in the record. It's odd
for a party to withhold from the court evidence that it
contends is conclusive in its favor, but that's what
Brill has done.
further problem with his suit is the difficulty, even with
the aid of a handwriting expert, of determining whether two
signatures are by the same person. Brill insists that his
signatures always include a middle initial, D, and the
signature on the lease extension omitted the D. But of course
if Brill signed the lease extension but wanted to
"frame" Pfeifer as the signer, he had only to omit
his middle initial and cry forgery. It happens also that
handwriting analysis is expensive, see, e.g.,
DocExaminer: Forensic Document Laboratory,
Document Analysis: Fee Schedule: How Much Does it Cost?,
inconclusive when one of the signatures isn't genuine,
for then the similarities or differences between them may be
attributable to fraud or some other contrivance. Forcing a
credit reporting agency to hire a handwriting expert in every
case of alleged forgery would impose an expense
disproportionate to the likelihood of an accurate resolution
of the dispute over whether it was indeed forgery. And so the
Fair Credit Reporting Act's provisions for identity
theft, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681c-l, c-2, sensibly ask
persons who believe they are or may be victims of credit
fraud to report to the police before turning to the credit
reporting agency. As far as we know, Brill didn't do
similar puzzle concerns another related suit brought by Brill
-against Pfeifer for defrauding him by using a forged
signature to "steal" the Toyota lease from him. But
all that we're told about the suit is that Brill obtained
a default judgment. In other ...