Kiminski v. Hunt

Decision Date20 September 2013
Docket NumberC/w: Civil No. 13-358 (JNE/TNL),Civil No. 13-185 (JNE/TNL),C/w: Civil No. 13-389 (JNE/TNL),C/w: Civil No. 13-286 (JNE/TNL),C/w: Civil No. 13-208 (JNE/TNL)
PartiesJennifer Kiminski et al., Plaintiffs, v. John Hunt et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Lorenz F. Fett, Jr., Susan M. Holden, and Daniel E. Gustafson appeared for Plaintiffs.

Oliver J. Larson appeared for Defendants Tom Landwehr, Ramona Dohman, Mark Holsten, Michael Campion, Rodmen Smith, James Konrad, Keith Parker, Robert Maki, Steve Lime, Charlie Regnier, Stan Gruska, and Sheila Deyo.

Plaintiffs in these consolidated putative class actions are Minnesota residents who provided private data about themselves to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety ("DPS") in order to obtain and use a state driver's license. Plaintiffs' claims in these actions primarily stem from the conduct of a former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ("DNR") employee, John Hunt, who engaged in unauthorized viewing of private data from their motor vehicle records. The consolidated amended complaint1 alleges violations of the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA"), 18 U.S.C. § 2721 et seq., and Plaintiffs' constitutional right to privacy by Hunt and various employees of the DPS and DNR, in their individual capacities. The complaint also names the commissioners of the DPS and DNR as defendants in their officialcapacities for purposes of seeking prospective relief. The Defendants other than Hunt ("State Defendants") filed the present motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), seeking to dismiss the complaint against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, the State Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.


According to the complaint, defendant John Hunt ("Defendant Hunt") accessed private motor vehicle record data of more than five thousand individuals, approximately nineteen thousand times, without any legitimate reason to do so. Defendant Hunt's accesses occurred while he was a DNR employee and over a five-year period. The DNR terminated Defendant Hunt's employment sometime prior to January 14, 2013.

On or around that date, the DNR sent Plaintiffs a letter regarding Defendant Hunt's conduct. The complaint includes a sample letter as an exhibit. The letter notifies its recipients that "a DNR employee engaged in unauthorized viewing of private data from your driving and/or motor vehicle records." The letter confirms that the DNR no longer employs the employee. It explains that the records viewed "contain information such as your full name, date of birth, driver's license number, address, license status, and license photo."

The complaint does not allege that any of the Defendants other than Defendant Hunt personally viewed or used private data from Plaintiffs' records for an improper purpose. Rather, the complaint seeks to hold the State Defendants liable for Defendant Hunt's acts of improper viewing of information about them. The general thrust of the allegations against the State Defendants is that they failed to implement systems or procedures to adequately protect Plaintiffs' data, despite knowing of system-wide and rampant abuse by employees like Defendant Hunt. In elaborating on its claim of widespread misuse, the complaint alleges that theMinnesota Legislative Auditor has revealed that at least 50% of law enforcement officers are misusing motor vehicle records information.

The complaint categorizes the State Defendants as DNR Supervisors, DNR Does, Defendant Commissioners, and DPS Does. It identifies the DNR Supervisors and their titles as follows:

Keith Parker, Regional Director of the Central Region for the DNR
Robert Maki, Chief Information Officer of the DNR
Steve Lime, Data and Applications Manager of the DNR
Charlie Regnier, Computer Hardware and Software Procurement Manager of the DNR
Stan Gruska, Network Services Manager of the DNR
Sheila Deyo, Data Practices Compliance Commissioner of the DNR
• DNR Does, officers, supervisors, employees, staff, independent contractors, or agents of the DNR

The complaint identifies the Defendant Commissioners as follows:

Tom Landwehr, Commissioner of the DNR
Mark Holsten, former Commissioner of the DNR
Ramona Dohman, Commissioner of the DPS
Michael Campion, former Commissioner of the DPS

The complaint describes the DPS Does as those "who created, installed, monitored, regulated, coded, enforced, supervised, maintained, oversaw, updated, or otherwise worked on the Department of Vehicle Services' ('DVS') database or Bureau of Criminal Apprehension('BCA') database, each of which contained Plaintiffs' and class members' private driver's license information (collectively or individually, 'DPS Databases')."

The complaint lists five counts. Count I claims violations of the DPPA against all Defendants in their individual capacities. Count II asserts DPPA violations against Defendant Hunt only. Count III asserts violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the DNR personnel—"DNR Supervisors, DNR Commissioners and DNR Does"—in their individual capacities. Count IV alleges violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the "DPS Commissioners and DPS Does" in their individual capacities. Finally, Count V alleges a violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by current DNR Commissioner Landwehr and DPS Commissioner Dohman in their official capacities and seeks prospective, injunctive relief. The § 1983 claims allege violations of both statutory and constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs. The State Defendants' motion does not apply to Count II, since the complaint limits that count to Defendant Hunt. The motion seeks to dismiss the remaining counts as to the State Defendants and John and Jane Does.2


A defendant may seek to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although a pleading need not contain detailed factual allegations, "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Thus, the complaint must do more than merely leave "open the possibility that a plaintiff might later establish some set of undisclosed facts to support recovery." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561 (internal quotation marks omitted). It must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

In ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court accepts the facts alleged in the complaint as true. Crooks v. Lynch, 557 F.3d 846, 848 (8th Cir. 2009). "This tenet does not apply, however, to legal conclusions or formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action; such allegations may properly be set aside." Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). Nonetheless, all "reasonable inferences supported by the facts alleged" must be granted in favor of the plaintiff. Id. at 595.

I. Alleged Violations of the DPPA by the State Defendants (Count I)
A. Background and Framework of the DPPA

The DPPA generally restricts state departments of motor vehicles ("DMVs"), other organizations, and individuals from disclosing personal information contained in motor vehicle records except as allowed for under the statute. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721-2725. Congress enacted the DPPA as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. See Pub. L. No. 103-322, tit. XXX. Concern about use of personal information—then readily accessible from state DMVs—for criminal or threatening conduct provided the impetus for the DPPA. See Gordon v. Softech Int'l, Inc., No. 12-661, 2013 WL 3939442, *1 (2d Cir. July 31, 2013) (citingcongressional record); Senne v. Vill. of Palatine, Ill., 695 F.3d 597, 607 (7th Cir. 2012) (same). The highly-publicized murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer by a stalker who obtained her unlisted address from the California DMV has often been noted as a specific example of the basis for that concern. See, e.g., Gordon, 2013 WL 3939442, at *1; Senne, 695 F.3d at 607; Downing v. Globe Direct LLC, 682 F.3d 18, 26 n.9 (1st Cir. 2012).

The DPPA protects "personal information," 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). The first section of the DPPA starts with a general provision specifying that a state DMV or any "officer, employee, or contractor thereof shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available to any person or entity" personal information "about any individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record" except as allowed for under 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b). Id. § 2721(a)(1).

The exception provision, 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b), enumerates multiple permissible uses of personal information for various governmental and business purposes. Some of the items listed in the exception provision specify a user and/or certain conditions that make a use permissible. See id. § 2721(b). The next provision confirms that an "authorized recipient" also "may resell or redisclose the information only for a use permitted" under 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b) with further limitations. See id. § 2721(c).

In addition to the restriction of 18 U.S.C. §...

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