Editor’s Note – This article is a joint submission to the Baker Hostetler Class Action Lawsuit Defense Blog and Data Privacy Monitor. Be sure to check out the Data Privacy Monitor for the latest news, trends, and analysis on data privacy issues.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a purported class action lawsuit brought under the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2127, et. seq. (“DPPA”).
Plaintiffs’ claims in Wiles v. Ascom Transport System, Inc., Case No. 11-5342, were based on the bulk obtainment of personal information from Kentucky motor vehicle records. Named plaintiffs, all residents of Kentucky, brought the proposed class action suit against defendant Ascom, and others, claiming that the DPPA and their common law right to privacy were violated by Ascom’s purchase, use, and reselling of personal information contained in their motor vehicle records without a permissible purpose under the act.
In December 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled that the bulk purchase of motor vehicle records without a “specific need for every record” does not violate the DPPA, a ruling which ultimately resulted in the dismissal of the action in its entirety in February 2010 on motion of Ascom. Plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
On April 30, 2012, in an opinion written by Lawrence P. Zatkoff, a U.S. district judge sitting by designation, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Plaintiffs’ claim relied on the premise that Ascom did not have a permissible purpose or use in mind for each and every individual record at the time that it purchased the motor vehicle records in bulk. The court thus framed the issue as whether or not the “bulk obtainment of such records for the purpose of ‘stockpiling’ such records violates the DPPA.” The court held that it did not.
Citing to cases from the Fifth, Seventh, and Eight Circuits, as well as its own recent opinion in Roth v. Guzman, 650 F.3d 603, the court noted that the plaintiffs did not cite to any authority that would support the conclusion the DPPA limits disclosure of personal information to one individual at a time or requires immediate use of the information. Rather, the court found, “the legislative history (of the DPPA) clearly establishes that Congress did not intend to alter the traditional method of bulk disclosures by states, subject to the express limitations set forth in the DPPA.” Moreover, the court held that obtaining personal information solely for the purpose of reselling it is permitted by the DPPA if the information will be used by the buyer only for permitted purposes.
As to the common law privacy claim, the court held that it failed as a matter of law because plaintiffs had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the personal information contained in the records, nor did they allege that Ascom disclosed, or caused to be disclosed, their personal information to the public.
The opinion may be read here.