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Nelson v. Jesson

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

November 1, 2013

Chad Nelson, Plaintiff,
Lucinda Jesson, Minnesota Department of Human Services, State of Minnesota, Troy Schlener, Carla Brown, Kristin Johnson, Jerry Kerber, Michael Campion, and Ramona Dohman, Defendants.

Daniel J. Bellig, Joseph A. Gangi, William S. Partridge, Scott V. Kelly, Farrish Johnson Law Office, Chtd., Mankato, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Seth J. S. Leventhal, LEVENTHAL pllc, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant Troy Schlener.

Steven H. Alpert, Ricardo Figueroa, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, St. Paul, Minnesota, for all Defendants.


RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.


In this putative class action, Plaintiff Chad Nelson alleges Defendant Troy Schlener, while employed by Defendant Minnesota Department of Human Services ("DHS"), accessed his driver's license information and the information of approximately 1, 100 others without authorization, in violation of federal and state law. Nelson asserts claims against Schlener, DHS, and the various supervisors, commissioners, and other governmental agencies that allowed Schlener access to his personal information. All Defendants now move to dismiss; for the reasons that follow, Schlener's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and the other Defendants' Motion will be granted.


The following facts are alleged by Nelson in his Second Amended Complaint:

In July 2011, Nelson received a letter from DHS informing him that "a DHS employee accessed [his] Minnesota Department of Vehicle Service (DVS') records without authorization." (Compl. Ex. 1.) DVS records include such information as a person's full name, address, birthdate, driver's license number, driver's license status, height, weight, eye color, and driver's license photo. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 15.) They do not include social security numbers or any financial information. (Compl. Ex. 1.) DHS's July 25 letter informed Nelson that "[t]he records of approximately 1, 100 Minnesotans were viewed over the course of eleven months" and that an audit "did not uncover any evidence that there was distribution, sale, or further disclosure of" the records. (Id.) Although the letter does not disclose the name of the individual responsible, Nelson alleges it was Troy Schlener, who was employed in the Licensing Division of DHS at the time and has since been terminated. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 4.)

A year and a half later, Nelson commenced this action on his own behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated. He asserts claims against Schlener; DHS; the State of Minnesota ("the State"); Carla Brown and Kristin Johnson, Schlener's supervisors; Jerry Kerber, the Director of the Licensing Division of DHS; Lucinda Jesson, the Commissioner of DHS; and Michael Campion and Ramona Dohman, the Commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("DPS") during the relevant time period. He asserts violations of the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2721 et seq. ("DPPA"), Minnesota's Government Data Privacy Act, Minn. Stat. § 13.01 et seq. ("MGDPA"), his constitutional rights, and his common-law right to privacy. Defendants now move to dismiss Nelson's claims; Schlener moves individually and all other Defendants move jointly. The Motions have been fully briefed, the Court heard oral argument on September 20, 2013, and the Motions are now ripe for disposition.


The Supreme Court set forth the standard for evaluating a motion to dismiss in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009). To avoid dismissal, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 547. A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" will not suffice. Id . at 555. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556).

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court "must accept [the] plaintiff's specific factual allegations as true but [need] not... accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions." Brown v. Medtronic, Inc. , 628 F.3d 451, 459 (8th Cir. 2010) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint must be construed liberally, and any allegations or reasonable inferences arising therefrom must be interpreted in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 554-56. A complaint should not be dismissed simply because the Court is doubtful that the plaintiff will be able to prove all of the necessary factual allegations. Id . at 556. Accordingly, a well-pleaded complaint will survive a motion to dismiss even if recovery appears unlikely. Id . "Finally, the ...

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