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Mitchell v. Aitkin County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 8, 2018

Dawn Mitchell, Plaintiff,
v.
Aitkin County, et al., Defendant.

          Jonathan Strauss, Sapientia Law Group PLLC, appeared for Dawn Mitchell.

          Mark Hodkinson, Heley, Duncan & Melander, PLLP, appeared for the City of Edina.

          ORDER

          JOAN N. ERICKSEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Dawn Mitchell alleges that City of Edina police officers improperly accessed her personal information on seven occasions in violation of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721-2725. Edina has moved for summary judgment, arguing that (a) there was no DPPA violation because Mitchell has not shown that the accesses were for an impermissible purpose, (b) the officers have qualified immunity, and (c) Edina is not directly or vicariously liable for the conduct of its officers under the DPPA. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Mitchell has been a news anchor and sports reports for the Fox 9 television station for more than a decade. In January 2013, she received a notification from the Department of Natural Resources that a former employee had impermissibly accessed her personal information from a database maintained by the Driver and Vehicle Services (“DVS”) division of the Department of Public Safety (“DPS”). Mitchell subsequently requested an audit from DPS about other retrievals of her data. The audit revealed that her personal DVS information had been viewed approximately 219 times by roughly 50 different entities between 2005 and 2013. Because she had little or no direct contact with law enforcement personnel associated with these police departments or cities, Mitchell believed the obtainments of her DVS information were improper. Mitchell Dep. 8-9.

         In August 2013, Mitchell brought suit against the entities under the DPPA, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state privacy law. This Court's March 4, 2014 Order dismissed all of the counts of her complaint. Mitchell appealed, and in August 2015, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of Mitchell's timely DPPA claims against the cities of Edina and Minneapolis. McDonough v. Anoka Cty., 799 F.3d 931 (8th Cir. 2015).

         At issue now are seven DVS queries (or “accesses”) made by five Edina police officers between October 2009 and December 2011. Those accesses are summarized below:

DATE

OFFICER

ACCESS TYPE

TIME

Oct. 1, 2009

Melander

License Plate Query

DVS Query

11:12 PM

11:13 PM

Oct. 1, 2009

Melander

DVS Query

11:44 PM [1]

Oct. 4, 2009

Schultz

License Plate Query

DVS Query

10:45 PM

10:46 PM

July 19, 2010

Hubbard

License Plate Query

DVS Query

6:43 PM

6:44 PM

Sept. 6, 2011

Hubbard

License Plate Query

DVS Query

10:45 PM

10:46 PM

Oct. 10, 2011

Wagner

License Plate Query

DVS Query

11:53 AM

11:54 AM

Dec. 21, 2011

Buell

License Plate Query

DVS Query

11:57 PM (Dec. 20)

12:01 AM (Dec. 21)

         Each DVS query of Mitchell's personal information was preceded by a query of her license plate.[2] The five officers conducted numerous license plate queries during their respective shifts on the days and nights in question - i.e., Mitchell's plate search was one of many plate searches made by each officer during his patrol shift. See ECF No. 167-1. These plate searches were often followed by DVS searches. However, for three of the disputed accesses - October 4, 2009 (Schultz), October 10, 2011 (Wagner), and December 21, 2011 (Buell) - the DVS search for Mitchell was the only DVS search that the officer conducted during his shift. See ECF No. 196 at 4, 14.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To support an assertion that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed, a party must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, ” show “that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, ” or show “that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court views the record and all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

         DISCUSSION

         The DPPA protects “personal information” contained in motor vehicle records. “Personal information” is defined as “information that identifies an individual, ” and includes a person's photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address, telephone number, and medical or disability information. 18 U.S.C. § 2725(3). Under the law, a state department of motor vehicles and its representatives “shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available” personal information “about any individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record.” 18 U.S.C. § 2721(a)(1). A state or local agency may, however, use personal information for certain permitted purposes, including “carrying out its functions.” 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b)(1). Therefore, to establish a violation of the DPPA, a plaintiff must show that the defendant (1) knowingly (2) obtained, disclosed, or used personal information (3) from a motor vehicle record (4) for ...


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