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Eggen v. WESTconsin Credit Union

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

August 16, 2016

BRADLEY EGGEN and MARY EGGEN, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
WESTCONSIN CREDIT UNION, Defendant.

          OPINION and ORDER

          BARBARA B. CRABB DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Bradley Eggen and Mary Eggen received a personal loan from defendant WESTconsin Credit Union. As part of that process, defendant obtained plaintiffs’ driver’s license numbers. When plaintiffs defaulted on the loan, defendant sued plaintiffs in Wisconsin small claims court, attaching to the complaint at least one document that had plaintiffs’ unredacted driver’s license numbers on it.

         In this certified class action, plaintiffs contend that defendant’s disclosure of their driver’s license numbers, as well as the numbers of other class members who were sued by defendant in Wisconsin, violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act and the Wisconsin common law of nuisance. Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, dkt. #84, which is ready for review.

         With respect to plaintiff’s claim under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, defendant raises two arguments: (1) because defendant obtained plaintiffs’ driver’s license numbers from the plaintiffs’ own licenses, defendant did not disclose information “from a motor vehicle record, ” as required by the Act; and (2) defendant included the driver’s license numbers in its court filings because it was required to do so under state law, so it had a permissible purpose for disclosing the numbers. Defendant raises two arguments against plaintiffs’ nuisance claims as well: (1) defendant’s actions did not substantially interfere with a public place or a community, as required by Wisconsin’s nuisance law; and (2) plaintiffs did not suffer the type of harm necessary to sustain a nuisance claim. (Although plaintiffs originally included claims regarding disclosure of their Social Security numbers, neither side discusses that issue in their briefs, so I will assume that plaintiffs have abandoned those claims as to both the named plaintiffs and the class as a whole.)

         Having reviewed the parties’ summary judgment submissions, I am denying defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to plaintiffs’ claims under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, but I am granting the motion as to the nuisance claims. With respect to the federal claim, I conclude that a driver’s license qualifies as a “motor vehicle record” and that defendant has not identified a permissible purpose for including plaintiff’s protected information in court filings without redacting those filings or sealing them. With respect to the state law claim, I conclude that plaintiffs have failed to show that they can meet the standard for proving a public nuisance claim.

         Although plaintiffs did not file their own motion for summary judgment, it is not clear what issues are left to resolve as to plaintiffs’ claims under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The issues I decided with respect to that claim are legal, not factual, so they do not require further review by the factfinder. Because the parties do not identify any other factual (or legal) issues that remain in dispute, I am directing the parties to show cause why I should not grant summary judgment in plaintiffs’ favor on the court’s own motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f) (court may grant summary judgment for nonmovant after giving notice and a reasonable time to respond). The parties should include a discussion of damages.

         OPINION

         A. Scope of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

         A threshold problem with defendant’s motion for summary judgment is that defendant’s proposed findings of fact relate solely to the two named plaintiffs, Bradley Eggen and Mary Eggen, dkt. #86, even though this case has been certified as a class action. Defendant does not explain the reason for this. Defendant’s silence is surprising, particularly because the court denied defendant’s previous motion for summary judgment without prejudice on the ground that its scope was limited to the named plaintiffs. However, plaintiffs do not argue that the scope of defendant’s motion should be limited to the named plaintiffs. Rather, they assume as defendant does that the facts related to the Eggens’ experience are identical to those of the rest of the class. Accordingly, I will follow the parties’ lead on this issue and treat defendant’s summary judgment motion as though it applies to all class members.

         B. Driver’s Privacy Protection Act

         Under 18 U.S.C. § 2724(a), “[a] person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for a purpose not permitted under this chapter shall be liable to the individual to whom the information pertains.” In this case, plaintiffs do not contend that defendant obtained any information unlawfully. Rather, their claim is that defendant violated § 2724(a) by “disclos[ing]” their driver’s license numbers without a lawful purpose.

         In response, defendant does not deny that plaintiffs’ driver’s license numbers qualify as “personal information” or that defendant “disclose[d]” that information by including the numbers in court filings without redacting them or sealing the documents in which the numbers were contained. However, defendant says that it cannot be held liable under the Act for two reasons.

         First, defendant says that the definition of the phrase “motor vehicle record” does not encompass a driver’s license. Rather, defendant says that the definition is limited to records “contained within the transportation department’s database.” Dft.’s Br., dkt. #85, at 9. Because defendant says that it obtained plaintiffs’ driver’s license numbers from their driver’s licenses, defendant argues that it did not obtain personal information “from a motor vehicle record.”

         Second, defendant says that its disclosure of the driver’s license numbers was permitted under 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b)(4), which allows disclosure of personal information “[f]or use in connection with any civil . . . proceeding in any Federal, State, or local court . . ., including the service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation, and the execution or enforcement of judgments and orders, or pursuant to an order of a Federal, State, or local court.” Defendant says that § 2721(b)(4) applies because plaintiffs’ driver’s license numbers were included on loan ...


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