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Maracich v. Spears

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 17, 2013
Case #: 12-25
Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-25_4314.pdf

Civil Law: "An attorney’s solicitation of clients is not a permissible purpose covered by the Driver's Privacy Protection Act 18 U. S. C. § 2721 (b)(4) litigation exception."

The Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), prohibits the use of citizen information by a state DMV without first obtaining the driver's consent. Respondent's attorneys sued a South Carolina car dealership, asserting that the dealership violated a South Carolina consumer protection statute. Using information they gathered from the state's DMV, the attorneys attempted to form a class action lawsuit by soliciting more affected drivers. At that point, Petitioner's attorneys brought a suit alleging that using South Carolina's DMV information was violative of the DPPA. 

The District Court dismissed the suit on the grounds that Respondent's attorneys did not actually solicit more drivers, finding the case failed as a matter of law. Although the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the District Court erred in their determination that Respondent's attorneys did not solicit service, they affirmed the dismissal on summary judgment because Respondent's attorney's action was taken "in connection with [litigation],” including “investigation in anticipation of litigation,” a use permitted by the DPPA at 18 U.S.C. §2721(b)(4). 

The Supreme Court stated that the litigation exception should not be applicable in the context of attorney solicitation of potential clients using DMV data.  The statute was written with the goal of safeguarding highly sensitive information, therefore exceptions should be narrowly construed.  The case was remanded for decision on whether the “predominant purpose” of the use of South Carolina DMV information was for a "permissible reason related to litigation (in which case it was legal) or for soliciting clients (in which case it was illegal)."