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Jessen v. Blue Earth County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 10, 2014

Dorie Shoutz Jessen, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Blue Earth County, et al., Defendants.

Lorenz F. Fett, Jr., Sonia L. Miller-Van Oort, Jonathan A. Strauss, Sapientia Law Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiffs.

Jamie L. Guderian, Joseph E. Flynn, Jardine Logan & O'Brien PLLP, for Defendant Blue Earth County.

Jon K. Iverson, Stephanie A. Angolkar, Susan M. Tindal, Iverson Reuvers Condon, for Defendants City of Mankato and City of North Mankato.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this action, Dorie Shoutz Jessen, Jeremiah Shoutz Jessen, Mark Steven Shoutz, Vickie Faye Shoutz, and Casey Steven Shoutz ("Plaintiffs") allege government employees and the cities and counties employing them violated their rights under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721-2725, by accessing or allowing access to their driver's license information from the Driver and Vehicle Services ("DVS") database for an impermissible purpose. Defendants Blue Earth County, City of Mankato ("Mankato"), and City of North Mankato ("North Mankato") now move to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim, or in the alternative to sever the claims against them. For the following reasons, the Motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege the following facts in their Complaint.

Dorie Shoutz Jessen lives in Waverly, Minnesota. (Compl. ¶¶ 36, 42.) She is married to Plaintiff Jeremiah Shoutz Jessen; her parents are Plaintiffs Mark Shoutz and Vickie Shoutz, and her brother is Plaintiff Casey Shoutz. In 2013, Plaintiffs requested audits of their DVS records, which they received in 2014.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 276-81.) The audits revealed that unidentified employees of Blue Earth County, Mankato, and North Mankato had accessed their DVS records approximately 105 times between 2003 and 2012. (Id. ¶ 189.) Plaintiffs filed this action on April 11, 2014, against unknown John and Jane Doe individuals who accessed their information ("Individual Does") and their supervisors ("Supervisor Does"), Blue Earth County, Mankato, North Mankato, unknown municipalities ("Entity Does"), Ramona Dohman and Michael Campion, in their individual capacities as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("Commissioner Defendants"), [2] and unknown employees of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("DPS Does").

Plaintiffs allege that their DVS records[3] could not have been accessed for legitimate law-enforcement purposes. Plaintiffs' primary allegation is based on Dorie's romantic history. Plaintiffs hypothesize that the anonymous employee(s) who accessed their information was one person, Dorie's former fiance Kurt Konz. Dorie worked in Blue Earth County as a 911 operator from 2001-03 and lived with Kurt. After Dorie broke off their engagement in 2003, but before she moved out, Kurt videotaped her sleeping and showering. (Id. ¶ 129.) Although no Plaintiff has had contact with Kurt since 2003, that year unknown individuals began accessing Dorie's records. (Id. ¶ 142.) Plaintiffs allege no one else in Blue Earth County is interested in them. They claim Kurt's curiosity, romantic attraction, or obsession with Dorie had driven him to repeatedly access her and her family's information. (Id. ¶ 192.) Plaintiffs believe Kurt continues to work for Blue Earth County and can access the Mankato and North Mankato computer systems because all three entities share a 911 call center and jail. (Id. ¶¶ 183-84.)

Plaintiffs further allege that even if Kurt is not the employee accessing their records, no one is accessing their records with a permissible law-enforcement purpose. None of the Plaintiffs has been charged with a crime or been involved in a legal proceeding in Blue Earth County, Mankato, or North Mankato. (Id. ¶¶ 169, 176, 181.) None has had any reason to be a suspect in an investigation there. (Id. ¶¶ 169, 176, 181.) None has sought law-enforcement assistance or witnessed a crime in the jurisdictions. (Id. ¶ 286.) Plaintiffs have rarely been in Blue Earth County, Mankato, or North Mankato in the last decade, and only Casey (who visited in January 2014 and had no contact with law enforcement) has been there since 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 55, 73, 100, 111, 122.) Plaintiffs were searched for by name, not driver's license number. (Id. ¶¶ 3-7, 195.) Many times, the records of different members of Dorie's family were accessed at nearly the same time, and they were sometimes obtained at unusual hours, including in the middle of the night. (Id. ¶¶ 160-80.)

Plaintiffs assert one claim against all Defendants, violation of the DPPA, which Mankato and North Mankato now move to dismiss, arguing that the statute of limitations bars the claim. Blue Earth County also filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that 1) the statute of limitations bars portions of the claim arising before April 11, 2010; 2) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts showing Blue Earth County used their information; 3) Plaintiffs failed to allege facts showing Blue Earth County obtained, disclosed, or used their personal information for an unpermitted purpose; and 4) Blue Earth County employees are entitled to qualified immunity. Blue Earth County also argues that any remaining portions of the claim should be severed. The Motions, having been fully briefed and the Court having heard argument on September 4, 2014, are now ripe for disposition.

STANDARD OF DECISION

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 ...


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