Sunday, June 5, 2022

Dismissal Of Suit Against Soliciting Accident Lawyers Affirmed

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment on behalf of defendant attorneys who had solicited business based on information obtained from traffic accident reports

The Defendants here, a number of personal injury lawyers, obtained car accident reports from North Carolina law enforcement agencies and private data brokers. The reports included the names and addresses of the drivers involved in those accidents. The Defendants used that personal information to mail unsolicited attorney advertising materials to some of the drivers. Two groups of the drivers who received these materials, the Plaintiffs here, filed suit, asserting that the Defendants violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”). That statute provides a private cause of action against “[a] person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record,” for an impermissible purpose. See 18 U.S.C. § 2724(a). The district court held that the Plaintiffs had standing to bring suit for damages, but rejected the Plaintiffs’ claims on the merits, granting summary judgment to the Defendants in both cases. We affirm, albeit on narrower grounds than those on which the district court relied.

The plaintiffs had Article III standing to bring the suit but

the legislative history clarifies the plain text: the DPPA imposes civil liability only on a defendant who obtains personal information from a motor vehicle record, but not on a defendant who merely obtains personal information that can be linked back to (i.e., derived from) such a record. The district court properly rejected the Plaintiffs’ contentions to the contrary.


Whether or not driver’s licenses or DMV databases constitute “motor vehicle record[s]” (questions on which we take no position), the Defendants did not obtain the Plaintiffs’ personal information from licenses or DMV databases. The Defendants obtained the Plaintiffs’ personal information from accident reports — but the Plaintiffs failed to preserve the argument that those accident reports are “motor vehicle record[s].”

(Mike Frisch)

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