Many drivers know the futility of trying to fight a parking ticket, but one Illinois driver came up with an attack against his that has ended up with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, backing him up in an opinion released this past Monday. At 1:35 a.m. on August 20, 2010, a Palatine, Illinois, police officer ticketed Jason Senne’s illegally parked car and placed the ticket on the car windshield. Mr. Senne retrieved the ticket about five hours later and, not willing to pay the $20 fine and move on, fought back by filing suit against Palatine for violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. §§2721-25 (“DPPA”).
DPPA, which was enacted after a stalker obtained the home address of actress Rebecca Schaeffer from the California DMV and then used the information to find and kill her, places strict limits on how and why personal information contained in state DMV records can be released. It restricts not only disclosure by DMV employees, but also disclosure by those who lawfully obtain information from the DMV (in the Schaeffer matter, the stalker had hired a private investigator to obtain the information).
It turns out that in Palatine, when a police officer writes a parking ticket, information about the car’s owner is downloaded from the DMV and then printed on the parking ticket itself. This information includes the owner’s full name, address, driver’s license number, date of birth, sex, height, and weight. The parking ticket is then placed on the windshield of the car. Mr. Senne contended that placing the ticket on the windshield, in public view, constituted a disclosure of that private information in violation of DPPA and filed suit in Federal District Court. Palatine moved to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim. It contended that the parking ticket was not a disclosure and that, even if it was, it was permitted under a specific exception in DPPA. The District Court agreed with Palatine and dismissed the case, a decision that was affirmed on appeal. The Seventh Circuit Court then agreed to rehear the case en banc and, in a decision issued this past Monday, reversed the District Court.
Palatine argued that placing the ticket on the windshield did not constitute a disclosure because Mr. Senne had failed to allege that anyone other than himself had actually seen it. The Court, in rejecting Palatine’s argument, stated that the effect of placing the ticket on the windshield made the information available to any passer-by. The Court ruled that whether or not anyone else saw it is irrelevant, the act of placing it on the windshield is itself a publication that is prohibited by DPPA. The Court’s opinion is available here.