GRACZYK v. WEST PUBLISHING COMPANY (September 28, 2011)
Congress passed the Driver's Privacy Protection Act in 1993 to limit the dissemination of sensitive information acquired by state departments of motor vehicles. In general, the Act prohibits the disclosure of personal information obtained in connection with a motor vehicle record, although it contains several exceptions. A class of Illinois licensed drivers brought suit against West Publishing Company, alleging that West acquires sensitive personal information from motor vehicle departments for the purpose of reselling it, all in violation of the Act. Judge Gettleman (N.D. Ill.) dismissed the complaint, concluding both of that the plaintiff class lacked standing and that the complaint failed to state a claim. The class appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Posner, Flaum, and Williams affirmed. The Court first addressed and rejected the district court's conclusion with respect to standing. The Act creates a private right of action for the improper disclosure of personal information. The plaintiffs have alleged that West's acquisition and use of the information violates the Act. If plaintiffs prevail, West could no longer obtain and sell that information. The plaintiffs have alleged injury in fact that would be redressed by a ruling in their favor. They therefore have standing. With respect to the merits, however, the Court agreed with the district court that the complaint failed to state a claim. Here, the class does not dispute that the ultimate recipients of the sensitive information (i.e., West's customers) have a permissible use under the Act. Furthermore, the class concedes that West can lawfully obtain sensitive information from motor vehicle departments, if that information is first requested by a West customer. The class' contention is that West cannot obtain the sensitive information in bulk, without a specific request, and later sell it for an authorized purpose. Although "authorized recipient," is not defined in the Act, the Court concluded that the class' interpretation was not consistent with Congressional intent. There is no meaningful distinction between obtaining information to respond to a specific request or storing information in bulk in order to respond more efficiently to later requests. The Court also noted that the Fifth Circuit agrees and that the Department of Justice has issued an unpublished letter approving the practice. The complaint does not state a cause of action and was properly dismissed.