The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to overturn an appeals court order rescinding class certification in a data privacy lawsuit against a division of Thomson Reuters Corp. that gathers and sells state drivers’ license data.
Plaintiff Marcy Johnson claims West Publishing Corp. violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act by gathering bulk license data from states and selling it. The suit, which received a blessing in district court but was turned back on appeal, notes that the federal privacy law outlines only 14 approved uses for data.
The decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiff argues, inappropriately broadens the exceptions.
“The Eighth Circuit’s opinion gives a green light to running over this core privacy protection,” the Aug. 14 petition to the Supreme Court said, noting Congress’ intent to limit disclosure of sensitive personal information.
A federal judge in the Western District of Missouri agreed with Johnson’s view of the law and in August 2011 ruled that the DPPA does not permit the bulk collection of the data for resale.
“[T]he Court concludes that Congress did not intend the DPPA to authorize this widespread dissemination of private information untethered from the very uses that Congress listed in the DPPA,” U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey wrote in an Aug. 3, 2011 order denying judgment on the pleadings for West.
Laughrey certified the suit’s class seven days later, saying Johnson adequately represented consumers that have a common legal grievance in more than two dozen states.
The appeals court however, said the lawsuit fails to show that the company gathered data for a purpose not allowed under the DPPA. The April 2013 opinion notes that Laughrey’s judgment on permitted uses rejects a majority view that resale for bulk data can be gathered so long as there is no evidence of specific misuse.
The April judgment overturns Laughrey’s ruling against judgment on the pleadings and renders the class certification moot.
Soon after, Johnson filed for rehearing by the panel and for an en banc hearing, both of which were denied in May.
On Aug. 16, Johnson filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, asking the justices to decide if the Eight Circuit erred by allowing data collection under the DPPA so long as the information is eventually used in a permitted way.
The petition references the Supreme Court’s June 2013 opinion in Maracich v. Spears, which says none of the DPPA’s “exceptions are written to authorize private individuals to acquire the most restricted personal information in bulk merely to propose a commercial transaction for their own financial benefit.”
In its appeal brief in the Eight Circuit, West said the DPPA focuses on ultimate use.
“It is clear that the DPPA authorizes what West does,” the March 2012 brief said, “namely, obtaining motor vehicle information in bulk for resale for DPPA permitted uses.”