Days after her colleague had ruled differently in a similar case, a Chicago federal judge has hit the brakes on a lawsuit against a law firm brought by a couple alleging the firm had violated their privacy rights in using the information on a Schaumburg Police traffic crash report to solicit their business.
On Aug. 4, U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve dismissed a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs Antonio and Karen Pavone, and their minor son, identified only as M.P., against the firm of Meyerkord & Meyerkord LLC, a personal injury practice based in St. Louis, with an office in downstate Granite City.
In dismissing the case, St. Eve said the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act could protect personal information, such as people’s names, addresses, drivers license numbers and other identifying information, that might be contained on official motor vehicle records from being used by lawyers and others to market products or services to those people.
However, St. Eve said information contained on traffic accident reports prepared by police is not necessarily similarly protected from being seen and used by the public, including those seeking to use the information to land new customers or clients. The judge said this is the case because the information – while it may match what is found in the databases of motor vehicle records kept by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office, which are protected by the federal law – the information may have been provided directly to police by those whose information was listed in the official crash report.
“Because the Pavones fail to allege facts that establish or support a reasonable inference that defendant (Meyerkord) obtained plaintiffs’ personal information from a ‘motor vehicle record,’ the court dismisses their DPPA claim without prejudice,” St. Eve wrote.
The judge gave the Pavones until Aug. 25 to file an amended complaint.
The case centers on a letter the Pavones alleged they received from the Meyerkord firm shortly after they were involved in a traffic accident in Schaumburg on Jan. 15, 2015. The letter, which asked them to hire Meyerkord to represent them in any litigation or claims surrounding the accident, allegedly included an unredacted copy of the traffic crash report prepared by investigating police officers. That report included their names and personal information, as well as that of their son.
The Pavones alleged the letter left them “shocked and dismayed” over the use of their personal information. They further alleged the letter amounted to a violation of the federal DPPA law, as they argued the traffic crash report should be considered a motor vehicle record for the purposes of the law, and, even if it cannot be considered as such, the information listed in the report should be protected, as it is listed in the state’s motor vehicle records.
The Pavones had filed a similar action against a Chicago legal practice, the Law Offices of Anthony Mancini, which had also sent them a similar solicitation letter, also containing a copy of the Schaumburg Police traffic crash report.
The Pavones had sought to make both lawsuits class actions, as they alleged their experience reflects standard operating procedures for the firms, who, the Pavones allege, routinely mine traffic crash reports “in bulk” to obtain information on prospective new clients to whom they can offer legal services for potential personal injury lawsuits.
The Pavones had requested damages of at least $2,500 per plaintiff and class member, plus punitive damages.
The Pavones are represented in the cases by attorney Roger Zamparo Jr., of the Zamparo Law Group, of Rolling Meadows, and attorneys James A. Francis and John Soumilas, of the firm of Francis & Mailman, of Philadelphia.
In the case against Mancini, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly had found, unlike St. Eve, that the personal information contained in the traffic crash report should be off limits to those who wish to use it to solicit for new business, as the information may have been obtained by police from official motor vehicle records.
In so ruling, Kennelly had refused Mancini’s motion to dismiss the case, and had ordered the lawyer to respond to the allegations in the Pavones’ complaint.
In the case against Meyerkord, however, St. Eve said the information listed in the police report may not have been obtained from the protected motor vehicle records.
She noted, for instance, the Pavones likely freely supplied information to the police to include in the report, meaning the information likely did not come from the records protected by the DPPA.
St. Eve particularly cited the inclusion of the Pavones’ son as a plaintiff in the case, despite the obvious lack of any otherwise-protected information about him in state motor vehicle databases.
“Because the personal information allegedly disclosed in violation of the DPPA contains a minor child’s name and address, any inference that M.P.’s personal information came from the department of motor vehicles is not reasonable,” St. Eve said. “Indeed, even plaintiffs admit that ‘M.P.’s information most likely did not originate in state DMV records, although his parents[’] information did.’
“Despite this admission, plaintiffs nonetheless included M.P. as a plaintiff in this action.”