On September 4, 2008, in American Bankers Association v. Lockyer, No. 05-17163, 2008 WL 4070308 (9th Cir. Sept. 4, 2008), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived part of the California Financial Information Privacy Act (“S.B. 1”), allowing consumers to opt-out of certain information-sharing activities between financial institutions and their affiliates. Previously, in the 2005 case American Bankers Ass’n. v. Gould, 412 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2005), the Ninth Circuit ruled that the state statute was preempted by provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) regarding affiliate sharing of “consumer report” information.  The recent 2-1 decision preserves consumers’ rights under California law to restrict affiliate data-sharing related to non-consumer report information.

S.B. 1 sets forth a broad restriction on the sharing of consumer information with affiliates, stating that “[a] financial institution shall not disclose to, or share a consumer’s nonpublic personal information with, an affiliate unless the financial institution has clearly and conspicuously notified the consumer annually in writing . . . that the nonpublic personal information may be disclosed to an affiliate of the financial institution and the consumer has not directed that the nonpublic personal information not be disclosed.”

FCRA similarly restricts such affiliate sharing; however, FCRA only applies to “consumer report” information. As defined by FCRA, consumer report information is information used to determine a consumer’s eligibility for credit, insurance or employment.  In particular, consumer report information may include any information “bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part” for purposes of determining eligibility for credit, insurance or employment. Section 625(b)(2) of FCRA preempts states from regulating the exchange of information among affiliates.

Accordingly, in Gould, the Ninth Circuit held that FCRA preempted S.B. 1 insofar as both laws regulated the sharing of consumer report information with affiliates. The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to determine whether S.B. 1’s restrictions on affiliate-sharing with respect to non-consumer report information were severable, and thus, could survive preemption. On remand, a federal district court held that since the court lacked the power to sever the preempted applications of S.B. 1, the statute’s affiliate-sharing restrictions were preempted entirely.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. In Lockyer, the Ninth Circuit looked to whether California law permits the court to narrow S.B. 1’s application to avoid complete preemption. The court determined that if the Legislature’s intent “clearly would be furthered by application of the revised version rather than by the alternative of invalidation,” then the court “must revise the statute.”  From the language of the statute, the Ninth Circuit found that the California Legislature “would have preferred a narrowed version of [S.B. 1] to no version at all.” Moreover, S.B. 1 contained a severability clause in its enactment of the law – further proof that reforming S.B. 1 to sever its preempted applications would best effectuate the Legislature’s intent.  Thus, because S.B. 1 has non-preempted applications, FCRA does not preempt those provisions of S.B. 1 that do not relate to consumer report information.

As a result, certain banks and financial institutions should be mindful that, in addition to the affiliate-sharing restrictions contained in FCRA, California law may require them to provide customers an opportunity to opt-out of data-sharing arrangements with affiliates involving non-consumer report information.