SENNE v. VILLAGE OF PALATINE (July 11, 2011)

Jason Senne left his car parked overnight in Palatine, Illinois. Unfortunately, he was parked illegally. When he returned to his car, he found that it had been ticketed. The ticket itself included his name, his address, his date of birth, his sex, his height, and his weight. It had been placed on the car approximately five hours before he discovered it. The ticket itself could also be used as an envelope if the recipient decided to pay the fine by mail. Instead of paying the $20 fine, Senne filed a class action under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act. The Act prohibits the disclosure of personal information contained in a motor vehicle record. Judge Kennelly (N.D. Ill.) granted Palatine's motion to dismiss, concluding that the placement of the ticket on the windshield did not constitute a disclosure under the Act and that, even if it did, the disclosure was permissible under the Act. Senne appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Flaum and Ripple (concurring in part and dissenting in part) affirmed. The Court first turned to the language of the statute to ascertain Congress's intent. The Act provides that a covered person "shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available" the personal information. The Court rejected the Village's strained definition of "disclose" to apply only to those situations in which information is actually shared with someone. Relying both on the standard dictionary definition of "disclose" and the rest of the statutory phrase ("or otherwise make available"), the Court concluded that the placement of a parking ticket on a car constitutes "disclosure." The Act, however, lists 14 permissible uses, one of which is that the information may be disclosed in connection with any court or agency proceeding, including the service of process. Placing a parking ticket on a car constitutes service of process. Palatine's conduct was therefore permissible. The Court specifically rejected Senne's argument that the permissible use exceptions included only disclosures that were necessary for the purpose of the exception. Finally, the Court rejected Senne's argument that including the personal information on a piece of paper that could be used as an envelope constituted a second violation. The disclosure is still in connection with the court proceeding so it was still a permissible use. Even if it was an impermissible use, it would be the ticket recipient, not the Village of Palatine, that would be liable.

Judge Ripple wrote separately. He concurred with the majority's treatment of "disclosure." In his view, however, Palatine violated the Act because it disclosed personal information that it did not need to disclose to accomplish the service of process. The exceptions must be interpreted in accordance with Congressional intent. Therefore, Judge Ripple believed that the Act must be read to limit the permissible uses to the disclosure of information that is reasonably necessary to effectuate the government's purpose. Here, none of the information Senne complains of was necessary to achieve Palatine's purpose -- to notify the owner of the car of a parking violation.