United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Mark H. Zitzewitz, Lorenz F. Fett, Jr., Jonathan A. Strauss, and Kenneth H. Fukuda appeared for Plaintiff.
Kimberly R. Parker appeared for Defendant Ramsey County. Jamie L. Guderian and Joseph E. Flynn appeared for Defendant Counties of Aitkin, Beltrami, Carver, Chisago, Cook, Freeborn, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Mower, Rice, Stearns, Steele, and Wright. Andrea G. White appeared for Defendant Dakota County. Susan M. Tindal appeared for Defendant Cities of Aitkin, Anoka, Arlington, Blaine, Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Cottage Grove, Crosslake, Hopkins, Lake Shore, Lakeville, Maple Grove, Maplewood, Marshall, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Red Wing, Roseville, St. Francis, Woodbury, Blue Earth, Cannon Falls, Crosby, Green Isle, Northfield, Rosemount, Wabasha, and White Bear Lake. Bryan D. Frantz appeared for Defendant Anoka County. Toni A. Beitz appeared for Defendant Hennepin County. Cheri M. Sisk appeared for Defendant City of St. Paul. Christopher Haugen appeared for Defendant City of Edina.
JOAN N. ERICKSEN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Dawn Mitchell filed the complaint in this action alleging impermissible accesses by numerous law enforcement personnel and public employees of her private data maintained by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("DPS"). The named Defendants include 50 different cities and counties in Minnesota. Presently before the Court are nine motions, representing requests by the Defendants, to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim. For the reasons stated below, the motions are granted.
Although listing several different counts, Mitchell's complaint centers on alleged violations by the Defendants of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 ("DPPA"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721-2725. The DPPA protects certain "personal information" contained in motor vehicle records. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721-2725. The first provision of the DPPA restricts state departments of motor vehicles ("DMVs") and their representatives by providing that they "shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available to any person or entity" personal information "about any individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record" except as allowed under 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b). Id. § 2721(a). The exception provision of § 2721(b) enumerates multiple permissible uses of personal information for various governmental and business purposes. Of particular relevance to this action, the very first exemption allows a DMV to disclose or make the personal information available "[f]or use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions, or any private person or entity acting on behalf of a Federal, State, or local agency in carrying out its functions." Id. § 2721(b)(1).
Beyond limiting DMVs, the DPPA also makes it "unlawful for any person knowingly to obtain or disclose personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for any use not permitted under section 2721(b)." Id. § 2722(a). The DPPA includes various enforcement mechanisms, including a criminal fine for a person who knowingly violates the Act and a civil penalty imposed by the Attorney General on a DMV with "a policy or practice of substantial noncompliance." Id. § 2723. The Act also creates a civil cause of action, id. § 2724, which Mitchell invokes with her complaint.
Congress enacted the DPPA in 1994, as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, Pub. L. No. 103-322, tit. XXX, amidst concern about the ease with which personal information could be obtained from state DMVs and used for criminal purposes. See Senne v. Vill. of Palatine, 695 F.3d 597, 607 (7th Cir. 2012) (discussing the congressional record to conclude that "safety and security concerns" served as a central impetus for the legislation); see also Gordon v. Softech Int'l, Inc., 726 F.3d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 2013) (mentioning the enactment of the DPPA after the "highly publicized murder of an actress, whose stalker-cum-assailant had received her home address through an information request at a local DMV"). The DPPA also responded to concerns related to "the States' common practice of selling personal information to businesses engaged in direct marketing and solicitation." Maracich v. Spears, 133 S.Ct. 2191, 2198 (2013).
The action brought by Mitchell is similar to a growing number of actions recently filed in this district in which the complaint alleges DPPA violations by various Minnesota local governmental entities. With some variations, these actions represent the following basic scenario: The plaintiffs obtained reports from the DPS that reveal numerous accesses of their data by various governmental and other entities. Not knowing of, or being able to readily fathom, any legitimate reason for some or all of the accesses, the plaintiffs allege DPPA violations and related claims in a single action against multiple, largely-unrelated, governmental entities. Lacking any particularized evidence of impermissible retrieval by each defendant of their personal data, the complaints refer to generalized information about unauthorized accesses of private driver's license data by law enforcement personnel. For example, a February 2013 report by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor "estimated that over half of the law enforcement users of the [Driver and Vehicle Services] Web site may have used it to perform questionable queries in fiscal year 2012." Docket No. 61-1, 39. The growing number of actions like Mitchell's has garnered local media attention.
According to the complaint in this action, Mitchell moved to Minnesota in 2004 and became a news anchor and sports reporter for Fox 9 News (KMSP-TV). Compl. ¶ 68. She currently co-anchors FOX at Five and is an anchor and reporter for Fox 9 Sports. Id. ¶ 69. She has been a sideline reporter for NFL on Fox broadcasts. Id. ¶ 71. During her career in television news, "she has met and interviewed numerous law-enforcement personnel." Id. ¶ 70.
The complaint names 50 city and county defendants, along with 1-50 Entity Does, and refers to these defendants collectively as "Defendant Entities" or "Entity Defendants." See id. ¶¶ 11-64. The complaint also lists as defendants "John and Jane Does (1-300)" and describes them as "duly appointed and acting in their individual capacities as law-enforcement supervisors, officers or employees of the Defendant Entities or other state, county or municipal entities in Minnesota." Id. ¶ 65. Of this group, the complaint labels those without supervisory authority as "Individual Defendants" or "Defendant Individuals" and those with supervisory authority as "Defendant Supervisors" or "Supervisor Defendants." Id. ¶¶ 66-67.
The complaint alleges that as early as 2005, Individual Defendants began looking up Mitchell's personal information on a database maintained by the Driver and Vehicle Services Division of the DPS. Id. ¶ 74. It notes that Mitchell received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in January 2013 informing her that her information had been impermissibly accessed by a former employee. Id. ¶ 131. She then contacted the DPS to inquire about other retrievals of her data and learned that officers and personnel from approximately 50 different departments and agencies had viewed her data approximately 219 times. Id. ¶¶ 132-33. Exhibit A to the complaint lists these retrievals of her information. According to the complaint, "Individual Defendants used Mitchell's name, not her license plate number, to look up her private, personal information." Id. ¶ 137.
The complaint alleges that the Individual Defendants viewed her protected data, "including her home address, color photograph or image, date of birth, eye color, height, weight and driver identification number." Id. ¶ 125. According to the complaint, they "accessed the information for personal reasons completely unrelated to their position as law-enforcement officers, public employees, or in their job functions." Id. ¶ 124. The complaint claims that the Defendant Entities and Defendant Supervisors "allowed their employees" to view Mitchell's personal information for unlawful purposes and "knew or should have known" that it was occurring. Id. ¶¶ 144-45. The complaint alleges that evidence exists that "illegal access is widespread and pervasive" within law enforcement and that women disproportionately form the subjects of impermissible data viewing. Id. ¶¶ 150-53, 158. The complaint states that Mitchell has not committed any crimes that would authorize retrieval of her data and alleges the absence of "probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that Mitchell had engaged in any criminal activity or any activity even remotely related to criminal activity." Id. ¶¶ 160-61.
Beyond these generalized allegations, the complaint does not describe any facts signaling the impropriety of the lookups by any particular Individual Defendant. The complaint also does not identify any facts unique to any of the Entity Defendants, other than the number of retrievals of data by the officers affiliated with the entity, see id. at ¶¶ 75-123, and the listing of the retrievals on Exhibit A. Based on the general allegations, the complaint asserts four counts: (1) DPPA violations against all Defendants; (2) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Individual Defendants for violations of constitutional and statutory rights; (3) § 1983 claims against Entity Defendants and Supervisory Defendants related to the violations of the Individual Defendants; and (4) common law invasion of privacy by all Defendants.
Presently before the Court are nine motions filed by individual Defendant Entities or groups of them. Most of the motions seek dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Two motions refer to Rule 12(c). Docket Nos. 53 and 103. The same standard applies to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) and a motion for judgment on ...