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Collins v. Village of Palatine

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

August 29, 2016

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

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY United States District Judge

         On June 14, 2007, a Palatine police officer placed a traffic citation on the windshield of Michael Collins's car in public view. The citation included Collins's name and driver's license number, as well as his date of birth, gender, height, and weight. A little under nine years later, on March 29, 2016, Collins sued Palatine. He contended, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, Palatine had improperly disclosed personal information about him from motor vehicle records, in violation of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2721(a).

         Palatine has moved to dismiss Collins's suit, arguing that it is barred by the four-year statute of limitations that governs DPPA claims. Collins says in his complaint that his case is a "successor" to two other similar putative class actions against Palatine, Senne v. Village of Palatine and Murphy v. Village of Palatine, both of which alleged the same type of DPPA violation, and both of which were brought by the same lawyer who filed the present case. Palatine prevailed on summary judgment in the Senne case, and Murphy was voluntarily dismissed. The Court's determination of Palatine's motion to dismiss Collins's suit largely turns on how the Senne case affected the running of the limitations period on Collins's DPPA claim.

         Facts

         The Court takes the following facts from the allegations in Collins's complaint and from public court documents in the Senne and Murphy cases, of which the Court takes judicial notice. See, e.g., White v. Keely, 814 F.3d 883, 885 n.2 (7th Cir. 2016).

         Collins lives in Long Grove, Illinois. On the morning of June 14, 2007, he parked his car in a public area at the Metra station in Palatine and boarded a train to Chicago. He says he believed he had paid the $2 parking fee. Later that day, a Palatine police officer issued a parking citation stating that the car was illegally parked. When Collins returned to his car that evening, he found the citation on the outside of his windshield, in plain view. The citation contained Collins's name, address, driver's license number, date of birth, gender, height, and weight. Collins alleges that the police officer obtained all of this information from the Illinois Secretary of State and that it came from his driver's license and vehicle title. Collins contends that Palatine's listing of this information on a traffic citation that was left in a publicly accessible place constituted disclosure of personal information from motor vehicle records prohibited by the DPPA.

         On August 27, 2010, about three years and two months after Collins received his citation, the Senne lawsuit was filed. Senne's complaint, like Collins's, was based on his allegation that Palatine had improperly disclosed personal information from motor vehicle records in violation of the DPPA by including it on a traffic citation left on the windshield of his car on August 20, 2010. The Senne suit was filed by attorney Martin Murphy, who is also Collins's attorney in the present lawsuit. The complaint in Senne said that the suit was being filed on behalf of a putative class of others who had received parking citations from Palatine. However, Senne's attorney did not file a motion to certify the class prior to the Court's dismissal of the suit for failure to state a claim on September 22, 2010. Senne appealed the dismissal of the suit, and the Seventh Circuit reversed. See Senne v. Vill. of Palatine, 695 F.3d 597 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). The clerk of the district court received the Seventh Circuit's mandate on September 11, 2012, and that is the date on which this Court reacquired jurisdiction over the case. Discovery then proceeded. Senne filed a motion for class certification on September 10, 2012 when the case came back to this Court, and he filed an amended motion for class certification on May 31, 2013. The class certification motion was briefed and argued, but following argument, the Court determined to defer ruling on the motion pending its consideration of an anticipated but not yet filed motion for summary judgment by Palatine. On November 27, 2013, the Court granted Palatine's motion for summary judgment and terminated Senne's class certification motion as moot. Judgment in Palatine's favor was entered that same day. The Seventh Circuit affirmed this Court's judgment on April 28, 2015, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari on November 2, 2015. See Senne v. Vill. of Palatine, 784 F.3d 444 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 419 (2015).

         Attorney Murphy filed a suit against Palatine on his own behalf on November 2, 2015. He likewise alleged on behalf of himself and a putative class that Palatine had violated the DPPA by placing a traffic citation including information from his motor vehicle records on his windshield on August 24, 2010 (interestingly, just three days before attorney Murphy filed the Senne lawsuit). See Murphy v. Vill. of Palatine, No. 15 C 9800 (N.D. Ill.). Murphy filed a motion for class certification on December 7, 2015. Palatine filed a motion to strike the class action allegations from Murphy's complaint on January 12, 2016, arguing that Murphy could not appropriately serve as both the class representative and the attorney for the class. On February 15, 2016, Collins, the plaintiff in the present case, filed a motion seeking to intervene in the Murphy case and file an amended complaint naming only himself as the named plaintiff in Murphy's stead. Palatine objected to the motion. On March 29, 2016, Collins separately filed the present lawsuit, and the next day, Murphy filed a document in the Murphy case entitled "plaintiff's Rule 41 motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice." The Court entered an order in Murphy granting that motion on April 13, 2016, but it is likely that the dismissal of the case was effective on March 30, 2016 upon Murphy's filing of the mistitled "motion" for voluntary dismissal, because Palatine had neither answered the complaint nor filed a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i).

         Discussion

         Palatine contends that Collins's lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations. Collins argues that because the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, it is inappropriate to dismiss the case as time-barred on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The Court disagrees. Though, generally speaking, affirmative defenses are not properly considered on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim-the reason being that a plaintiff is not required to anticipate possible affirmative defenses in his complaint-the law is clear that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate if the complaint sets forth everything that is necessary to establish the affirmative defense. See, e.g., Bonstetter v. City of Chicago, 811 F.3d 969, 974 (7th Cir. 2016); Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 579 (7th Cir. 2009). And as noted earlier, a court addressing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion may consider not just the complaint's allegations but also matters of which it may properly take judicial notice, including official court records. White, 814 F.3d at 885 n.2; Olson v. Champaign Cty., 784 F.3d 1093, 1097 n.1 (7th Cir. 2015). The Court also notes that Collins specifically alleged in his complaint that "[t]his is a successor class action complaint to 10 cv 5434 (Senne v. Village of Palatine, Ill.) and 15 cv 9800 (Murphy v. Village of Palatine, Ill.), " Compl., p. 1, making it doubly appropriate to consider the public-record procedural history of those cases in addressing the present motion.

         The Court therefore turns to the merits of Palatine's limitations argument. The general four-year limitations period found in 28 U.S.C. § 1658 governs DPPA claims. See McDonough v. Anoka Cty., 799 F.3d 931, 939 (8th Cir. 2015). Collins's DPPA claim accrued when he found the parking citation on his windshield on June 14, 2007, see Id. at 943; Palatine so argues, and Collins does not contend otherwise. Thus Collins's claim expired on June 14, 2011 unless a basis for tolling the limitations period exists.

         There is no question that part of the limitations period is tolled by the pendency of the Senne and Murphy putative class actions. Collins would have been a member of the putative classes in each of those cases. For this reason, the limitations period applying to his claim was tolled during the period from the filing of each of those cases until either disposition in the district court or denial of class certification, whichever came first. "[T]he commencement of a class action suspends the applicable statute of limitations as to all asserted members of the class who would have been parties had the suit been permitted to continue as a class action." Am. Pipe & Const. Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538, 554 (1974); Crown, Cork & Seal Co. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 353-54 (1983). And "[o]nce the statute of limitations has been tolled, it remains tolled for all members of the putative class until class certification is denied." Crown, Cork & Seal Co., 462 U.S. at 354.

         Collins says that class certification was never denied in either Senne or Murphy and that, as a result, the tolling provided under the rule of American Pipe never stopped. In Senne, the Court granted summary judgment in Palatine's favor and, at the same time, terminated the class certification motion as moot. In Murphy, the suit was voluntarily dismissed by Murphy prior to any ruling on the motion for class certification. Collins contends that because class certification was never denied in either case, tolling continued, and his suit is timely.

         This argument is foreclosed by a series of Seventh Circuit cases, beginning with Hemenway v. Peabody Coal Co., 159 F.3d 255 (7th Cir. 1998). In that case, the earlier putative class action suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds without any indication of a ruling directly on class certification. The court posed this question: "should it matter that [the earlier putative class action suit] was dismissed for want of jurisdiction rather than because class status was inappropriate?" Id. at 266. It answered the question no, saying that the putative class action's failure on jurisdictional grounds had to be treated as a failure of class certification for purposes of tolling under American Pipe and Crown, Cork & Seal. Id. The Seventh Circuit reaffirmed this principle in Culver v. City of Milwaukee, 277 F.3d 908 (7th Cir. 2002), saying that although "[t]he filing of a class action suit tolls the statute of limitations for all members of the class, . . . when the suit is dismissed without prejudice or when class certification is denied the statute resumes running for the class members." Id. at 914 (emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted). And finally, in Sawyer v. Atlas Heating and Sheet Metal Works, 642 F.3d 560 (7th Cir. 2011), the court said that "[t]olling ...


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