Saying plaintiffs would be hard pressed to demonstrate precisely how otherwise-protected information may have ended up on police vehicle crash reports, a Chicago federal judge has refused to allow a class action lawsuit to proceed against a St. Louis-based personal injury trial law firm accused of purchasing traffic crash reports and using personal information from those reports to solicit business from potential clients.
On May 22, U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve denied the request from plaintiff Antonio Pavone to certify a class of potentially thousands of other plaintiffs throughout Illinois in litigation against the Meyerkord & Meyerkord law firm and iyeTek LLC, a subsidiary company of online information provider LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
The decision comes as the latest step in a two-pronged legal fight launched by Pavone and his attorneys, the Zamparo Law Group, of Hoffman Estates, and the firm of Francis & Mailman, of Philadelphia, in 2015 against the Meyerkord firm and a Chicago personal injury lawyer, Anthony Mancini. Both Meyerkord and Mancini had mailed letters to Pavone in the weeks following Pavone’s January 2015 traffic crash in Schaumburg, asking him to hire them to represent him should he sue the other driver or another party stemming from the traffic accident.
Pavone alleged in his lawsuits that the soliciting attorneys had gleaned his information from an official traffic crash report, which had been purchased along with a bundle of others from iyeTek. According to court documents, police agencies use an iyeTek system, called iyeCrash in the court documents, to scan and upload traffic crash reports to a database, to make them accessible to other agencies which also use the LexisNexis system.
Pavone also added iyeTek and LexisNexis to his action against Meyerkord, alleging the information technology vendor went too far in selling the crash report information to lawyers without getting the permission of those whose personal information was included in those reports.
Specifically, Pavone has alleged the defendant lawyers and other I.T. companies violated the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, which limits the use of personal information contained on official state motor vehicle records.
In this case, Pavone alleged Meyerkord violated his rights, as well as many others in Illinois, in using his drivers license number – which he said is an official state motor vehicle record – to solicit business.
And Pavone asked the court to also allow a nationwide class action to proceed against iyeTek over the same allegation.
In response, however, iyeTek and Meyerkord argued class certification should not be allowed in this case because the potential plaintiffs and class members would have too little in common. While the police reports may contain common information, how that information ends up on the police reports can vary markedly among police agencies, as there is no standard method of creating crash reports either in Illinois or nationally. They noted in some jurisdictions, drivers license numbers may not be required information on crash reports.
St. Eve sided with Meyerkord and iyeTek on that question, noting “whether crash reports contain personal information from a motor vehicle record is an individualized inquiry that would predominate over questions common to the class.”
“…Evidence reveals that police officers in Illinois - and throughout the country - prepare iyeCrash reports using various sources of information and not necessarily from a driver’s license like Plaintiff’s claim,” the judge wrote. “In short, Plaintiff cannot show that his claim arises from the same event or course of conduct as all class members.”
Further, St. Eve noted Pavone’s nationwide class action against iyeTek would be hamstrung by iyeTek’s move to terminate Meyerkord’s access to accident reports through iyeCrash “shortly after Plaintiff’s car accident due to it violating the terms and conditions of its agreement with iyeTek.” This, she said, would demonstrate Pavone’s demand for an injunction barring iyeTek from selling crash reports to lawyers who might use the information to market to clients, as iyeTek had already taken steps to enforce the terms of its commercial account agreements which prohibit “the use of accident reports for commercial solicitation purposes.”
“As such, Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief is clearly incidental to the monetary relief he seeks,” St. Eve wrote.
St. Eve’s denial of class certification, however, comes about two months since a different federal judge, Matthew F. Kennelly, gave Pavone the green light to press ahead with his lawsuit against Mancini. In that decision in late March, Kennelly said Pavone had established harm from Mancini’s use of Pavone’s traffic crash report information.
In that ruling, Kennelly had determined “a reasonable jury could find that it would be readily apparent to anyone in Mancini’s position that a driver’s license number comes from a driver’s license – that is, from a motor vehicle record as the DPPA uses that term.”
St. Eve, however, said Kennelly’s conclusion doesn’t defeat Meyerkord’s and iyeTek’s argument that the inclusion of a drivers license number on a police report doesn’t necessarily mean the information was obtained from a person’s drivers license, provided to the police officer who created the crash report.
Meyerkord is represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Barnow & Associates, of Chicago.
LexisNexis and iyeTek are represented by the firm of Troutman Sanders LLP, with offices in Chicago, San Francisco, Irvine, Calif., and Richmond, Va.