Whitaker et al v. Appriss Inc
OPINION AND ORDER: GRANTING 175 Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Appriss Inc. against Plaintiffs Rachel A Whitaker and Richard L Dunkin. Signed by Judge Robert L Miller, Jr on 7/18/17. (jld)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
RACHEL A. WHITAKER AND
RICHARD L. DUNKIN,
Cause No. 3:13-cv-826 RLM-CAN
OPINION AND ORDER
The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. § 2721 et seq.,
secures from prying eyes the personal information held in state department of
motor vehicles records. Appriss, Inc. sold two drivers’ accident reports to
businesses, which then used those reports to solicit the drivers. The drivers
brought a putative class action against Appriss for violating the DPPA, and
Appriss now moves for summary judgment.
The Indiana State Police contracted with Appriss to design and to maintain
the Automated Reporting Information Exchange System, or ARIES. ARIES
offered a uniform accident report for police throughout the state, a software
platform for police to complete accident reports, and electronic storage for
completed accident reports.
Police officers had two options when filling drivers’ personal information
into the Indiana Officer’s Standard Crash Report. They could manually type in
the driver’s contact and vehicle information. Or they could use a handheld
scanner to scan the barcodes on the back of the driver’s license and registration
documents. Once the scanner read the barcode, it would auto-populate the
accident report with the information listed on the driver’s license and
registration, including the driver’s name, address, and license number. The only
practical difference between these methods was that using the scanner would
save time for officers and avoid typographical errors.
The barcode method never accessed the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ own
database of driver data. It used no internet connection at all. The driver’s license
barcode was encoded with the information on the front of the driver’s license –
the scanner simply read it and input the information into the form.1 Once an
officer completed the crash report, often after filling in details about the accident
back at the station, the report would then upload to the ARIES database.
Appriss made completed crash reports available on its website,
www.buycrash.com. The state police required ARIES to be a “self-funded”
program, meaning that Appriss relied on user fees from the website to make
money, without charging the state for its services. Through the website, Appriss
allowed parties involved in accidents to purchase copies of their accident reports.
Appriss also allowed the general public, including businesses, to buy individual
reports or to pay a subscription fee that allowed them to access reports in bulk.
Companies that purchased accident reports could then use them to solicit
Appriss had a third method to populate the accident reports that involved logging into the BMV
database. This method wasn’t available to either police department involved in this litigation.
clients. According to Appriss’s contract, the state police authorized the specific
fees that Appriss charged to the public, and Appriss remitted a portion of the
fees paid to it back to the state police. ARIES would also send all new and
updated crash report data to the BMV every day, allowing the BMV to investigate
financial responsibility in accidents and to suspend licenses as needed.
The BMV stores all of its driver, vehicle, and title records in the STARS
(System Tracking and Record Support) system. Police officers can use the
Indiana Data and Communications System, or IDACS, to access the records in
STARS to check the validity of drivers’ licenses. The BMV logs every IDACS
request to access STARS, including the date and information accessed. IDACS
seems to be the only way for an officer to access STARS data.
The plaintiffs argue that Appriss impermissibly disclosed their contact
information, contained in their accident reports, to third-party businesses that
then used that information to solicit them without their consent.
The first plaintiff is Rachel Whitaker, who was in a car accident in Kokomo,
Indiana. Officer Cunningham responded to the accident. He initially didn’t want
to prepare an accident report because he believed that the damage to her car
was worth less than $1,000. Ms. Whitaker insisted that he complete one anyway.
She says she gave Officer Cunningham her driver’s license and registration, and
Officer Cunningham then returned to his car with these items.
Officer Cunningham explained that, when responding to accidents, he
often uses IDACS to check the validity of a driver’s license. He said that he then
takes handwritten notes on a blank Standard Crash Report form, seemingly
without using the auto-populate feature from the barcode scanner. When he gets
back to the station, he uses his notes to create an electronic version of the
accident report for ARIES. Officer Cunningham says he would have followed
these steps when he responded to Ms. Whitaker’s accident. According to a BMV
representative, Ms. Whitaker’s information wasn’t accessed through IDACS on
the date of the accident. Her accident report was uploaded to ARIES on the day
of her accident. The report was updated at a later date, but only to include data
on the accident’s location.
About a month after the accident, Ms. Whitaker received letters from a
personal injury law firm and from a chiropractor advertising their services and
indicating knowledge that she had recently been in a car accident. According to
Appriss, five different entities purchased Ms. Whitaker’s accident report.
The second plaintiff is Richard Dunkin, who was involved in an accident
in Carrol County, Indiana. Deputy Schimmel responded to the accident. Mr.
Dunkin says he gave his driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of
insurance to Deputy Schimmel, who then took them back to his police car.
Deputy Schimmel’s usual practice when responding to an accident is to
ask the driver for his license, registration, and insurance documents. He would
scan the barcodes on the license and registration to auto-populate the accident
Deputy Schimmel also generally calls the dispatcher to request a “10/27,”
code for a confirmation that a driver’s license is valid and that the holder has no
outstanding warrants. In calling for a 10/27, he usually provides a combination
of the driver’s name, birth date, or license number. The dispatcher then uses
IDACS to access the BMV’s STARS database to check whether the license is valid.
When dispatch checks on a license, it usually relays some information, such as
the driver’s name and address, back to the police officer. Deputy Schimmel says
he probably wouldn’t compare that information against what was written on the
license, and he’s usually just concerned with whether the license is valid. BMV
records show that there was a STARS information request, through IDACS, for
Mr. Dunkin on the date of his accident. Mr. Dunkin’s accident report was
uploaded to ARIES and no changes were ever made to it.
About a month after the accident, Mr. Dunkin received solicitations from
businesses with which he had no relationship, and which indicated their
knowledge that he had recently been in a car accident. According to Appriss, six
different entities purchased Mr. Dunkin’s accident report.
The plaintiffs weren’t the victims of stalking or identity theft from the
disclosure of their personal information. Neither suffered any monetary loss or
physical harm from the disclosure. Ms. Whitaker said she “resented,” and Mr.
Dunkin said it was “scary,” that strangers could obtain their information so
Ms. Whitaker and Mr. Dunkin claim that Appriss violated the Driver’s
Privacy Protection Act when it sold copies of accident reports containing personal
information to third parties for solicitation purposes and without their consent.
The plaintiffs seek liquidated damages in the amount of $2,500 each, §
2724(b)(1), and class certification, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23.
The court denied Appriss’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Whitaker v. Appriss, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-826, 2014 WL 4536559 (N.D. Ind. Sept.
11, 2014). The court bifurcated discovery, delaying any ruling about the potential
class action until the court determines whether the named plaintiffs prevail. In
2016, the Supreme Court decided Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016),
which provided guidance on Article III standing. Based on Spokeo, Appriss moved
to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The court decided that
the plaintiffs have standing and the case continued through discovery. Whitaker
v. Appriss, Inc., 3:13-cv-826, 2017 WL 193056 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 17, 2017). Appriss
now moves for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery
materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material
fact, such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56; Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-392 (7th Cir. 2011).
The evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn from it must be
construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). As the moving party, Appriss bears
the burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, together with
evidence demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If Appriss meets that burden,
the plaintiffs can’t rest upon the allegations in the pleadings, but must “point to
evidence that can be put in admissible form at trial, and that, if believed by the
fact-finder, could support judgment in [their] favor.” Marr v. Bank of Am., N.A.,
662 F.3d 963, 966 (7th Cir. 2011); Hammel v. Eau Galle Cheese Factory, 407
F.3d 852, 859 (7th Cir. 2005) (summary judgment is “not a dress rehearsal or
practice run; it is the put up or shut up moment in a lawsuit, when a party must
show what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version
Congress enacted the DPPA to prevent “stalkers and criminals from
utilizing motor vehicle records to acquire information about their victims,” and
to stop “the States’ common practice of selling personal information to
businesses engaged in direct marketing and solicitation.” Dahlstrom v. SunTimes Media, LLC, 777 F.3d 937, 944 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Maracich v.
Spears, 133 S. Ct. 2191, 2198 (2013)). The Act prohibits state departments of
motor vehicles from “knowingly disclos[ing] or otherwise mak[ing] 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
under the statute’s fourteen exceptions. 18 U.S.C. § 2721(a)(1). The Act prohibits
“any person [from] knowingly  obtain[ing] or disclos[ing] personal information,
from a motor vehicle record, for any use not permitted under” one of the
exceptions. § 2722(a). A “motor vehicle record” is “any record that pertains to a
motor vehicle operator’s permit, motor vehicle title, motor vehicle registration, or
identification card issued by a department of motor vehicles.” § 2725(1). The Act
confers a private right of action on people whose information was wrongfully
obtained or disclosed for, among other things, “actual damages, but not less than
liquidated damages in the amount of $2,500.” § 2724(a), (b)(1).
The court holds that name, address, and driver’s license number written
down or scanned from a driver’s license handed over by the license-holder isn’t
“personal information, from a motor vehicle record,” protected by the DPPA. §
2722(a). Appriss didn’t violate the DPPA when it sold the plaintiffs’ personal
information to businesses to solicit them.
A. The law of the case
Appriss first argues that the court’s earlier opinions compel judgment in
its favor. See United States v. Thomas, 11 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 1993) (“[W]hen
a court decides upon a rule of law, that decision should continue to govern the
same issues in subsequent stages of the same case.”).
In ruling against Appriss’s motion to dismiss, the court looked to Senne v.
Village of Palatine, 695 F.3d 597 (7th Cir. 2012), which held that personal
information printed onto a parking ticket is “personal information . . . about any
individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle
record,” 18 U.S.C. § 2721(a), and thus falls within the DPPA’s scope. Senne v.
Vill. of Palatine, 695 F.3d 597, 601-603 (7th Cir. 2012). Senne wasn’t a case in
which the plaintiff herself disclosed the information, but where the police officer
accessed the DMV database to prepare the ticket. It led to this court’s conclusion
that “[i]f the original source of the other government agency’s information is the
state department of motor vehicles, the DPPA protects the information
throughout its travels.” Whitaker v. Appriss, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-826, 2014 WL
4536559, at *4 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 11, 2014) (citing Senne, 695 F.3d at 609).
An accident report itself isn’t a motor vehicle record, but “disclosure of
personal information that was obtained by and from the department of motor
vehicles may nonetheless violate the DPPA.” Id. at *5 (discussing Mattivi v.
Russell, No. Civ.A. 01-WM-533(BNB), 2002 WL 31949898 (D. Colo. Aug. 2,
2002)). The decisive factor is “how the police officer who created the accident
report obtained the driver’s license and vehicle title information – from the
plaintiffs themselves or from the state department of motor vehicles.” Id.; see
Pavone v. Meyerkord & Meyerkord, LLC, 118 F. Supp. 3d 1046, 1054 (N.D. Ill.
2015) (“To the extent that the Schaumburg Police Department received the
Pavones’ personal information verbally from the Pavones—a reasonable inference
given they were at the scene of the accident—this would not constitute a violation
of the DPPA.”).
But the earlier opinion isn’t explicit as to whether personal information
pulled from a driver’s license, without accessing the BMV’s database, is
information “from the plaintiffs themselves[, who handed over their driver’s
licenses,] or from the state department of motor vehicles[, which created the
licenses using its records of the drivers’ personal information].” Id. The “original
source” can be characterized either way. The law of the case doesn’t provide
Appriss with a clear route to victory.
B. The statute
The first issue is whether the driver’s license itself is a “motor vehicle
record.” If so, the disclosure of personal information from it would fall under the
statute. A “motor vehicle record” is “any record that pertains to a motor vehicle
operator’s permit . . . or identification card issued by a department of motor
vehicles.” 18 U.S.C. § 2725(1) (emphasis added). The word “pertains,” as used in
the DPPA, means “to belong as a part, member, accessory, or product.” Lake v.
Neal, 585 F.3d 1059, 1061 (7th Cir. 2009). A driver’s license isn’t a part, member,
accessory, or product of a motor vehicle operator’s permit; it is a motor vehicle
operator’s permit. The plaintiffs suggest that “pertains” is intentionally
expansive. As explained later, such an expansive reading would pull conduct
into the Act’s orbit well beyond what Congress intended to govern. The license
itself isn’t the relevant “motor vehicle record.”
If there’s a possible claim, the relevant record would have to be that on
which each license was based and which contains the driver’s personal
information. This record would “belong as a part” to the driver’s license, without
contorting the word “pertain.” If the “original source” of the information on the
license is the BMV, then the information falls under the Act’s scope. Whitaker v.
Appriss, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-826, 2014 WL 4536559, at *4 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 11,
2014) (citing Senne v. Vill. of Palatine, 695 F.3d 597, 609 (7th Cir. 2013)). The
only issue then is whether the “original source” of the information is the DMV or
Other courts interpret DPPA protection to require that the information in
a record be disclosed by a DMV, and not the plaintiff. The Second Circuit adopted
this interpretation in Fontanez v. Skepple, 563 F. App’x 847 (2d Cir. 2014). The
plaintiff in that case produced her driver’s license as identification at a jail so
that she could visit her incarcerated boyfriend. The defendant, a corrections
officer, used the address from her license to send her a teddy bear and note
describing himself as her “new admirer.” Id. at 848. The Second Circuit held that
“[w]here the personal information at issue is not obtained from a state DMV, no
DPPA cause of action can be found.” Id. at 849. “[T]he DPPA does not protect
against the use of personal information obtained from a driver’s license provided
by the holder as proof of identity to gain access to a facility.” Id. at 848. The
“access to a facility” language arguably limits the reach of the court’s holding,
but nothing in the statute suggests that DPPA scope is related to whether the
holder uses a license to gain access to a facility or for any other purpose. Because
the plaintiff provided the license containing the information, there’s no DPPA
claim when that information is misused.
The Eleventh Circuit’s interpretation accords with the Second Circuit’s. In
Siegler v. Best Buy Co. of Minnesota, 519 F. App’x 604 (11th Cir. 2013), a
customer returned a computer mouse to Best Buy. To complete the return, the
cashier took the customer’s driver’s license and scanned the magnetic strip on
it. Id. at 604. The customer demanded that the information from the license be
deleted and, when Best Buy didn’t do so, he sued for violating the DPPA. Id.
The court held that “the Act is concerned only with information disclosed,
in the first instance, by state DMVs.” Id. at 605. “[T]he Act was intended to
prohibit only the disclosure or redisclosure of information originating from state
department of motor vehicles . . . records.” Id. (emphasis in original). That the
plaintiff disclosed the information removed it from the scope of the act. See also
Hurst v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 10-1001-GMS, 2012 WL 426018,
at *10 (D. Del. Feb. 9, 2012) (“Where, as here, a defendant does not obtain a
plaintiff’s ‘personal information’ from a state motor vehicle agency, but instead,
obtains that information directly from the plaintiff, any subsequent disclosure of
that ‘personal information’ is not a DPPA violation.”); O’Brien v. Quad Six, Inc.,
219 F. Supp. 2d 933, 934 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (“Reading the statute as a whole, it is
clear that it is concerned with the source of the information—the state, as
opposed to oneself—and not the medium by which it is conveyed—a driver’s
license, passport, credit card, or the spoken word.”).
These interpretations run counter to a decision from the Northern District
of Illinois. That court held that “[a] driver’s license number and the other
information contained on a driver’s license is, without question, ‘part’ of a motor
vehicle operator’s permit.” Pavone v. Law Offices of Anthony Mancini, Ltd., 205
F. Supp. 3d 961, 966 (N.D. Ill. 2016). Information from a driver’s license is, thus,
information from a “motor vehicle record” and subject to DPPA protection. Id.
This court disagrees with Mancini. It treats the personal information on
the license as the relevant “record.” The statute prohibits a person from
“knowingly obtain[ing] or disclos[ing] personal information, from a motor vehicle
record,” 18 U.S.C. § 2722(a), with a “motor vehicle record” meaning “any record
that pertains to a motor vehicle operator’s permit,” § 2725(1). To prevail on the
claim, there should be, separately, “personal information,” a “record,” and a
“motor vehicle operator’s permit.” Mancini treats the information on the driver’s
license number as both “record” and “personal information.”
Strange and far-reaching results follow from the Mancini interpretation,
treating the license as the “motor vehicle record,” or treating the “original source”
as the BMV. Any non-excepted use of information pulled off a driver’s license
provided by its holder would subject the user of that information to DPPA
liability. The alleged violations of the Act in the appeals court cases described
above—the Fontanez “new admirer” case and the Best Buy case—illustrate the
absurdity and breadth of the resulting liability. Appriss points out other absurd
results. For example, a person who uses information on her spouse’s driver’s
license information to make an order or reservation would be liable to the spouse
for a DPPA violation.2 These results caution against conflating the various
elements, or treating the DMV as the “original source” when the plaintiff
discloses information. These interpretations balloon liability beyond the Act’s
purpose of preventing disclosures by DMVs and misuse of information disclosed
to third parties from DMVs.
The plaintiffs try to cabin the broad effects of these interpretations by
arguing that the DPPA protects information on driver’s licenses only when that
information is disclosed involuntarily. They argue that, because Indiana law
That is, unless the spouse signed a written consent form. See 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b)(13).
requires disclosure of a driver’s license to the police after an accident, the
plaintiffs didn’t disclose it voluntarily, so it remains under DPPA protection.
Judge Moran arguably accepted this distinction when a night club patron’s
information was disclosed after she used her driver’s license to gain access to
the club. O’Brien v. Quad Six, Inc., 219 F. Supp. 2d 933, 935 (N.D. Ill. 2002)
(“This statute seeks to control dissemination of information collected using the
coercive power of the state. It does not regulate information freely given by
consumers to private businesses . . . .”). The court declines to graft an
involuntariness requirement onto the statute.
There’s no strong basis for using voluntariness to determine DPPA
coverage. No language in the statute alludes to this distinction. Even though this
court disagrees with Judge Kennelly’s conclusions in Mancini, both courts agree
on this point. Pavone v. Law Offices of Anthony Mancini, Ltd., 205 F. Supp. 3d
961, 966 (N.D. Ill. 2016). Fact-intensive analysis of what disclosures are
voluntary also provides little guidance to entities attempting to determine how to
comply with the Act before disclosing data. If the voluntariness distinction were
relevant, the evidence here wouldn’t clearly answer whether the plaintiffs were
required to disclose their licenses. Ms. Whitaker, for example, insisted that
Officer Cunningham complete a police report. Could disclosure of her license be
involuntary when she asked for the police report? It’s unclear how a business
like Appriss is to discern which data is voluntarily disclosed and so disclosable
“Through passage of laws like the DPPA, Congress extended privacy rights
beyond just those redressible at common law.” Whitaker v. Appriss, Inc., 3:13cv-826, 2017 WL 193056, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 17, 2017). It did so narrowly and
intentionally to protect information held by DMVs and disclosed by DMVs to
other entities. Id. When the holder of a driver’s license hands over her personal
information to an entity other than a DMV, even when that information is printed
onto a driver’s license, the DPPA doesn’t protect it.
Based on the foregoing, the court GRANTS Appriss’s motion for summary
judgment [Doc. No. 175] and directs the Clerk to enter judgment accordingly.
ENTERED: July 18, 2017
/s/ Robert L. Miller, Jr.
United States District Court
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