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Gulsvig v. Mille Lacs County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 31, 2014

CANDACE GULSVIG, MEL GULSVIG, and JOHN SCHMOLL, all individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
MILLE LACS COUNTY; MICHAEL CAMPION, in his individual capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety; MONA DOHMAN, in her individual capacity as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety; MIKKI JO PETERICK, in her individual capacity as an employee of Mille Lacs County; JOHN AND JANE DOES, acting in their individual capacity as supervisors in Mille Lacs County; and JOHN AND JANE DOE EMPLOYEES OF THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, in their individual capacities as officers, supervisors, staff, employees, independent contractors or agents of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Defendants.

Lorenz F. Fett, Jr., SAPIENTIA LAW GROUP, 12 South Sixth Street, Suite 1242, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and Susan M. Holden, SIEBEN GROSE VON HOLTUM & CAREY, LTD, 901 Marquette Avenue, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55402, for plaintiffs.

Oliver J. Larson, Assistant Attorney General, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1800, St. Paul, MN 55101, for defendants Michael Campion and Mona Dohman.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS CAMPION AND DOHMAN'S MOTION TO DISMISS

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

This putative class action involves a Mille Lacs County employee's alleged misuse of private driver's license information and seeks to hold state officials liable for the alleged harm to the people who are the subject of the information. Plaintiffs allege that an employee of Mille Lacs County improperly accessed the drivers' license information of over 370 individuals and bring this action against the employee, Mille Lacs County, the current and former commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("DPS"), and John and Jane Doe state and county employees, alleging violations of the Drivers Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA" or "the Act") and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The current and former commissioners of the Minnesota DPS, Michael Campion and Mona Dohman, move to dismiss all counts against them, arguing that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for relief. The Court concludes the Commissioners cannot be held liable under the DPPA based on Plaintiffs' allegations here and that the personal information at issue is not so intimate or extremely personal so as to be protected by a constitutional right to privacy, and will thus grant the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

I. PARTIES AND COMPLAINT

Plaintiffs are residents of Minnesota who allege that an employee of Mille Lacs County improperly accessed the drivers' license information of over 370 individuals, including their own. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-6, 22, May 31, 2013, Docket No. 1.) They allege that the employee had access to a state database of motor vehicle records maintained by DPS ("the Database") containing "personal information" and "highly restricted personal information" including name, date of birth, driver's license number, address, photo, weight, height, eye color, and "perhaps... medical and disability information." ( Id. ¶¶ 18-19.)

Plaintiffs allege that the employee, Mikki Jo Peterick, was employed by Mille Lacs County Family Services and was authorized by Mille Lacs County to use the Database, but that from January 2009 through November 2012 Peterick acquired the private data of approximately 379 individuals without authorization. ( Id. ¶¶ 16-17, 22.) The County sent out letters to these individuals notifying them of the "unauthorized access of... private information by an employee of Mille Lacs County Community & Veterans Services." ( Id. ¶ 25 (citing id., Ex. A).)

Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit against Peterick, Mille Lacs County and John/Jane Doe supervisors in the County, and the current and former Commissioners of DPS, Mona Dohman and Michael Campion ("Commissioner Defendants"), in their individual capacities. ( Id. ¶¶ 7-13.) The instant motion involves only the Commissioner Defendants. Against these Defendants, Plaintiffs allege violations of the DPPA and bring claims for violations of their statutory and constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs seek monetary damages and, against only current Commissioner Dohman, injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ( Id. at 8-13, 18-21.)

Plaintiffs' claims against the Commissioner Defendants center on their management and oversight of the Database. Plaintiffs allege that the Commissioner Defendants "failed to put into place systems and/or procedures to ensure Plaintiffs' and Class Members' Private Data would be protected and would not be subject to misuse, " and that they "could have taken appropriate security safeguards in regard to Plaintiffs' and class members' Private Data, but failed to do so, " despite the fact that "[m]any viable methods were and are available to prevent this illegal accessing of private information." ( Id. ¶¶ 35, 40.)

II. DPPA ALLEGATIONS

The Drivers' Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721, et seq., provides a private right of action to a person whose driver's license information is misused. 18 U.S.C. §§ 2724(a). Plaintiffs seek to hold the Commissioner Defendants liable under this section of the statute. On this count, plaintiffs allege that Peterick knowingly obtained, disclosed, or used Plaintiffs' and Class Members' private motor vehicle record data for a purpose not permitted under the DPPA and that the Commissioner Defendants "knew or should have known and/or recklessly disregarded that Peterick was making these illegal accesses." (Compl. ¶¶ 51, 54.) Plaintiffs furthermore allege that the Commissioner Defendants "knowingly authorized, directed, ratified, approved, acquiesced in, committed or participated in obtaining, disclosing or using of Plaintiffs' and Class Members' private personal information by Peterick, " and that these actions "constitute knowing disclosures of the personal information of Plaintiffs and Class Members under the DPPA." ( Id. ¶¶ 56-57.)

The Complaint includes allegations suggesting that the Commissioner Defendants should have been aware that the Database was frequently misused by local law enforcement officers: Plaintiffs allege that both Commissioner Defendants "have been involved with law enforcement for many years." ( Id. ¶ 58.) Specifically, they allege that current Commissioner Dohman "has been a law enforcement officer for thirty years, having formerly served as police chief of the City of Maple Grove from 2001 until her appointment as DPS Commissioner in March 2011, " and that before she was Maple Grove's Chief of Police "she was an investigator, patrol officer, sergeant and captain of the Maple Grove Police Department." ( Id. ¶¶ 59-60.) Plaintiffs further allege that "[i]n other lawsuits and potential lawsuits, DPS audits have revealed that numerous officers on the Maple Grove Police Department in particular have made impermissible accesses, including during Dohman's tenure as Maple Grove Police Chief, " and "Plaintiffs' counsel has been informed by those familiar with the problems of police departments that misuse of private information is the main complaint of most chiefs and police human resources personnel." ( Id. ¶¶ 62-63.)

With regard to former Commissioner Campion, Plaintiffs allege that he "served from July 2004 until March 2011, " and that before becoming Commissioner he was "supervisor of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension ("BCA"), which also maintains a driver's license database." ( Id . ¶ 64.) According to Plaintiffs, "[i]t was during his tenure that the DPS Database was largely developed in its current format." ( Id. ¶ 66.)

Plaintiffs allege with regard to both Commissioner Defendants that:

On information and belief, misuse of the DPS Database has been wellknown to the Commissioner Defendants. At a hearing at which Commissioner Dohman testified, the testimony of the Legislative Auditor revealed that at least 50% of law enforcement officers are misusing the DPS Database by accessing, disclosing, and/or using the driver license personal information for an impermissible purpose. On information and belief, the Commissioner Defendants knew this, and knowingly disclosed the information in part by (a) failing to safeguard and monitor the database despite knowing of its rampant misuse, (b) willfully refusing to correct the misuses, or (c) both failing to monitor and refusing to correct the abuse and misuse ...

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