Our Corporate Granpappy Wins Driver's License Info Dispute. Again

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 09, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Thomson Reuters is a massive, massive company. Among its many, many products are FindLaw.com (that's us!) and West Publishing, whose blue screens of research filled your sleep-deprived nights in law school.

One of West's available products is a driver's license information database. West obtains the information in bulk, from DMVs and third parties, and sells it to end-users for "proper purposes".

Marcy A. Johnson isn't too happy about that practice. She alleged, on behalf of herself and all similarly-situated people in the class, that the act of bulk aggregation of DMV data and the sale of such data violated the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).

West attemtped the old 12(c) judgment on the pleadings, but the district court denied the motion, holding "the DPPA does not permit a reseller of personal information, such as West, to obtain driver's license information from a state or third party when the reseller's only purpose is to resell the information to other third parties."

Meanwhile, the Eighth Circuit was busy deciding Cook v. ACS, which was essentially the exact same case, except ACS wasn't purchasing from third parties. That, per the Eighth Circuit, is a distinction without a difference. The court also noted that Cook relied upon a Seventh Circuit case, Graczyk v. West Publishing, in which data was obtained from third parties (West was the defendant in that case as well).

What was the holding in Cook? You guessed it: West wins.

Plaintiffs cannot establish a violation of the DPPA if all the defendants have done is obtain driver information in bulk for potential use under a permissible purpose... Plaintiffs cannot establish a DPPA violation by alleging that Defendants obtained personal information with the sole purpose of selling it to third parties who have permissible section 2721(b) uses for the information.

Johnson attempted to differentiate Cook by pointing out the difference in the data's sources (state versus state and private) and "respectfully suggest[ed] that the issues and facts presented in this appeal were not sufficiently fleshed out or addressed by the parties in the Cook matter."

In other words: My lawyers are better than Cook's lawyers.

We already noted the court's response to her attempt to distinguish Cook. As for the latter argument, the appellate court said "It is well established ... that one panel of this Court may not overrule another ... so we must decline [Johnson's] invitation to reconsider our prior decision."

In other words: a petition for rehearing is forthcoming.

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