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Senne v. Village of Palatine

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 27, 2013

JASON SENNE, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF PALATINE, Defendant

Page 787

For Jason M Senne, Plaintiff: Martin Joseph Murphy, Martin J. Murphy, Attorney at Law, Long Grove, IL.

For Village Palatine, Defendant: James Roland Griffin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Patrick Thomas Brankin, Robert C. Kenny, Schain, Burney, Banks & Kenny, Ltd., Chicago, IL; Paul Alan Rettberg, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brandon K Lemley, Querrey & Harrow, Ltd., Chicago, IL; William Charles Barasha, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael E. Kujawa, Judge, James & Kujawa, Ltd., Park Ridge, IL; Andrew G. Witik, Judge, James & Kujawa, LLC, Park Ridge, IL.

OPINION

Page 788

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, United States District Judge.

Jason Senne has sued the Village of Palatine, alleging that its practice of printing on parking tickets personal information obtained from motor vehicle records violates the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. § 2721. The Village has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the Village's motion.

Background

On the night of August 19, 2010, Jason Senne parked his car in front of his house on East Heron Drive in Palatine, Illinois. The next morning, he noticed a parking ticket underneath one of his car's windshield wipers. The ticket, for $20, had been placed there at 1:35 A.M. the night before and was signed by Officer Joseph Christians. It said Senne had violated Section 18.86 of the Palatine Code of Ordinances, which prohibits parking for longer than fifteen minutes between 1:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Printed on the ticket were Senne's name, driver's license number, date of birth, sex, height and weight, and license plate number. The ticket also listed for Senne an address other than the one where he resided. The parties dispute whether it should be considered " Senne's address." Senne testified in a deposition that the house at that address once belonged to his mother.

Christians testified during his deposition that he placed the ticket face down under one of the windshield wipers on Senne's car. The Village contends that some of the information on the ticket was obscured, including Senne's birthdate, operator license number, height, and weight. Senne responds that this is only because the versions of the ticket that are in evidence are faded and of poor quality.

About one week after receiving the ticket, Senne filed suit in this Court under the DPPA. He alleged in his complaint that the Village " is knowingly obtaining, disclosing, and using personal information for an unpermitted purpose" --the distribution of personal information by placing it on parking tickets such as Senne's. Compl. at 7. Senne sought certification of the case as a class action on behalf of " [e]ach and every individual who received a parking citation in the Village of Palatine" during the previous four years, if the citation included the individual's personal information. Id.

On September 1, 2011, the Village moved to dismiss Senne's case for failure to state a claim. The Village argued first that the DPPA did not apply to its placement of personal information on parking tickets, because the placement fell under one of the " permissible uses" outlined in 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b). Senne responded that the Village's actions did not qualify for any of the exceptions listed in section 2721(b).

On September 22, 2010, this Court granted the Village's motion to dismiss. The Court concluded that the Village had not disclosed personal information within the meaning of the DPPA, because it had not turned over the information to anyone. In July 2011, a panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed this Court's decision. The Seventh Circuit then vacated the panel's decision and granted an en banc rehearing. In August 2012, the Seventh Circuit reversed

Page 789

this Court's decision on the motion to dismiss. See Senne v. Village of Palatine, 695 F.3d 597 (7th Cir. 2012).

The Seventh Circuit first held that the Village's placement of the parking ticket on Senne's windshield constituted a " disclosure" for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 2721. Because the statute does not allow a DMV to " knowingly disclose or otherwise make available " protected personal information, the court stated, there is " little doubt about the breadth of the transactions Congress intended to regulate." Id. at 602 (emphasis added). The court concluded that, given the sweep of the statute's language in its references to " disclosure," Congress intended the Village's action to fall within the reach of the statute. Id. at 602-03. The Seventh Circuit also addressed the Village's argument that the placement of the ticket was not a " disclosure" because no one other than Senne saw the ticket. The court disagreed, citing the " broad language employed by Congress" in section 2721, as well as the fact that the statute by default prohibits sharing of the information on the ticket, with a limited number of exceptions. The court stated:

[t]he action alleged here, placing the information on the windshield of the vehicle in plain view on a public way, is certainly sufficient to come within the activity regulated by the statute regardless of whether another person viewed the information or whether law enforcement intended it to be viewed only by Mr. Senne himself.

Id. at 603. To hold otherwise, the court said, would be to " misunderstand[ ] the textual scheme that Congress has forged." Id.

Having held that the Village's placement of the ticket on Senne's car constituted a disclosure, the court then turned to whether the disclosure fell within the permissible uses of personal information under section 2721(b), as the Village contended. The court noted that the Village had not " describe[d] in any length how all the information printed on the ticket served either purpose; instead, it maintains, in effect, that the statute does not require that analysis." Id. at 605. The court rejected this position. It noted that each of the cited exceptions under section 2721(b) includes the phrase " [f]or use" and stated that these words " perform a critical function in the statute and contain the necessary limiting principle that preserves the force of the general prohibition while permitting the disclosures compatible with that prohibition." Id. at 606. Therefore, " the actual information disclosed--i.e., the disclosure as it existed in fact--must be information that is used for the identified purpose." Id. In addition, " [t]he disclosure actually made under the exception must be compatible with the purpose of the exception." Id. To reemphasize this point, the court said that in light of Congress's stated concern with privacy and security issue, " the disclosed information actually must be used for the purpose stated in the exception." Id. at 609. The court added, however, that it did not construe " use" in the statute " to mean 'necessary use,' nor do we require the Village to adopt some form of 'best practices' not commanded by the statute." Id. at 606 n.12.

The Seventh Circuit went on to conclude that whether the Village's uses of the information actually complied with § 2721(b) could not be resolved on review of a motion to dismiss and that " [f]urther proceedings will permit the parties to explore this question." Id. at 608. The court added, however, that " [w]ith respect to some of that information [on Senne's ticket], it is difficult to conceive, even on a theoretical ...


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