Federal Court of Appeals Determines That Village May Be Liable for $80 Million for Placing Personally Identifiable Information on Parking Tickets
Dec 20, 2012
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Senne v. Village of Palatine, Illinois, 695 F.3d 597 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc), determined that the Village of Palatine may have violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act by placing too much personally identifiable information on its parking tickets including the vehicle owner’s name, address, driver’s license number, date of birth, sex, height, and weight. Municipalities, community colleges, and other governmental entities that issue parking tickets should immediately review their practices to ensure that they comply with the court’s decision.
A Village police officer issued Jason Senne a $20 ticket for parking overnight on a public street and placed the ticket on his windshield. Mr. Senne filed a class action lawsuit against the Village in federal court claiming that the Village’s practice of printing personal information about the vehicle’s owner on parking tickets violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (the “Act”).
The Act requires that authorized recipients of certain personal information from state motor vehicle records, such as municipalities and other governmental units, must keep that information confidential unless there is a specific statutory exception which permits disclosure.
The court first found that placing the parking ticket on Mr. Senne’s windshield constituted a “disclosure” under the Act because any passerby could have viewed the ticket, even though there were no facts to suggest that anyone had actually done so during the five hours before it was removed from the windshield.
The Court next addressed the statutory exceptions which might apply to justify the “disclosure.” The Village argued that the Act specifically permits disclosing confidential information “for use” in connection with service of process — which is what a parking ticket is — and for use by a law enforcement agency in carrying out its functions.
The court said, however, that the term “for use” means that only information which is actually “used” for issuing a ticket may be disclosed and that to the extent that much of the driver’s personal information wasn’t necessary to issue or process the ticket, it was overkill and the “service of process” exception did not apply. Therefore, if the personal information was not actually “used” by the Village to process the ticket and carry out its law enforcement functions, the disclosure by the Village violated the Act. The court remanded the case to the District Court for further development of the facts but made clear that it doubted there was a legitimate need for the Village to include so much personal information about a vehicle’s owner on a parking ticket.
Several judges dissented, pointing out that the Act does not say that only “necessary” information may be included on parking tickets and other service of process documents. These judges also noted that the Act provides for minimum liquidated damages of $2,500 per violation and for recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees and said that the court’s decision may subject the Village to $80 million of liability because the class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of everyone who had received a parking ticket in the Village within the four-year statute of limitations.
The court’s decision and narrow interpretation of the Act’s disclosure exceptions makes clear that governmental entities should strictly limit the types of personal information disclosed on parking tickets to avoid potentially serious financial liability.
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Paul Stephanides of the firm’s Mokena’s office and David Weldon of the firm’s Chicago office prepared this Law Alert.