Details: Maracich v. Spears
on Jun 17, 2013 at 10:47 am
A federal law, the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), prohibits the use of a driver’s information from a state DMV without prior permission from the driver. In this case, lawyers sued South Carolina car dealers on behalf of four individuals who had recently bought cars, alleging that the car dealers had violated a state consumer protection law. Using contact information from the South Carolina DMV, they then tried to find additional plaintiffs for their lawsuits so that they could form a class action lawsuit. However, lawyers for the car dealers then filed a lawsuit on behalf of other South Carolinians who had recently bought cars, alleging that the use of the information from the DMV violated the DPPA. At issue before the Court was whether the original lawsuit against the car dealers was allowed under a provision of the DPPA that creates a “litigation exception” to the law’s general ban on use of driver data; that “exception” allows the use of driver data “in connection with any civil . . . proceeding in any Federal, State, or local court . . . including . . . investigation in anticipation of litigation.”
Writing for a five-Justice majority, Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court held that the litigation exception does not apply to attorney solicitations of potential clients using DMV data. Because the statute generally protects highly sensitive information, any exception should be read narrowly, the Court held. The reference to an “investigation in anticipation” extends only to activities to decide whether a potential claim has sufficient merit to warrant a lawsuit, or to locate witnesses, but not activities designed to sign up clients for a case.
The Court remanded the case for the lower courts to decide whether, viewed objectively, the “predominant purpose” of the use of the DMV information was for client solicitation (in which case it was illegal) or for some other permissible litigation-related purposes (in which case it was legal).
Joining Justice Kennedy’s opinion were the Chief Justice, along with Justices Thomas, Breyer, and Alito. Justices Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Scalia, Sotomayor, and Kagan.