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Weitgenant v. Patten

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 30, 2014

Jessica Weitgenant, Plaintiff,
v.
Janet Kay Patten; Jane Does; Christopher Sorenson; Lincoln, Lyon, and Murray Human Services; and Southwest Health and Human Services, Defendants.

Daniel J. Bellig, Esq., Farrish Johnson Law Office, Mankato, MN, on behalf of Plaintiff.

Ann Goering, Esq., Ratwik Roszak & Maloney, PA, Minneapolis, MN, on behalf of Defendants Southwest Health and Human Services and Christopher Sorenson.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN D. MONTGOMERY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 28, 2014 the undersigned United States District Judge heard oral argument on Defendants Southwest Health and Human Services ("SWHHS") and Christopher Sorenson's ("Sorenson") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Docket No. 18]. SWHHS and Sorenson argue that they are not liable for the violations of the Drivers Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA") and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act ("MGDPA") alleged by Plaintiff Jessica Weitgenant's ("Weitgenant"). For the reasons discussed below, SWHHS and Sorenson's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

Weitgenant alleges that Defendant Janet Kay Patten's "snoopy curiosity" led her to unlawfully look up Weitgenant's personal information in violation of the DPPA and the MGDPA. Pl.'s Mem. Opp. J. Pleadings [Docket No. 24] 1. Patten was an employee of Lincoln, Lyon and Murray Human Services ("LLMHS") when she allegedly accessed Weitgenant's personal information. LLMHS was dissolved in 2010. In 2011, Pipestone County joined the LLMHS counties (Lincoln, Lyon and Murray) to form SWHHS. Rock and Redwood counties later joined SWHHS in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Weitgenant argues that SWHHS is liable for Patten's actions under a theory of successor liability. Id. at 2. Weitgenant also argues that the former director of LLMHS, Christopher Sorenson-who currently serves as the director of SWHHS-is liable for Patten's actions as the "responsible authority" for driver's vehicle services (DVS) data at LLMHS.

A. The Parties

LLMHS was formed by Lincoln, Lyon and Murray counties in 1974 as a joint powers entity under Minn. Stat. § 471.59.[1] The purpose of LLMHS was to "form a single welfare board, " a goal shared by Lincoln, Lyon and Murray counties. Goering Aff. [Docket No. 21] Ex. 1. The contract agreement among the three counties set forth the composition of the single Welfare Board and designated financing ratios based on the respective welfare expenditures of each county. Id . No other operational details were included in the agreement. Id.

As early as 2006, prompted by a cost-benefit analysis, the LLMHS counties began discussing the formation of a new joint powers entity with a related social service organization and additional counties. Goering Aff., Ex.6; Bellig Aff. [Docket No. 25] Ex. 2. By January 2011, a new joint powers entity, SWHHS, was formed. Id . In total, SWHHS is comprised of the original three LLMHS counties in addition to Pipestone, Rock and Redwood counties. Id.[2]

Weitgenant is a resident of Rochester, located in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Compl. [Docket No. 1] ¶ 3. Patten is a resident of Worthington, located in Nobles County, Minnesota. Id. at ¶ 4. Weitgenant has some association with Patten's children. Id. at ¶ 40. Patten allegedly looked up Weitgenant's personal information through Minnesota's Motor Vehicle's (DMV) database on or about April 2, 2010 without a permissible purpose as required by the DPPA. Id. at ¶¶ 41-44. Patten was employed by LLMHS at the time she allegedly accessed Weitgenant's personal information; she never worked for SWHHS.

Christopher Sorensen formerly served as director of LLMHS and now serves as the director of SWHHS. Goering Aff., Ex.6; Bellig Aff., Ex. 2.

B. Minnesota's drivers' motor vehicle (DMV) records database

The Driver and Vehicle Services Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("DPS") maintains a password protected database of Minnesota drivers' motor vehicle records ("DVS database"). The database includes each licensed driver's name, date of birth, driver's license number, address, photograph, weight, height, eye color, social security number, and some limited health and disability information. Compl. at ¶¶ 35-37. Law enforcement personnel and other state agency employees have access to the DVS database through a DVS website or a system operated by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Each state employee who is authorized access is issued a password allowing entry to the DVS database.

C. The DPPA and the MGDPA

The DPPA prohibits "any person" from "knowingly... obtain[ing] or disclos[ing] personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for any use not permitted under Section 2721(b) of this title." 18 U.S.C. § 2722. As defined by the Act, "personal information" means basic identification information including name, photograph, address, social security number, and driver's license number. See id. § 2725(3). The Act lists numerous permitted uses, including "use by any ...


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