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Media Alerts - McDonough v. Anoka County - Eighth Circuit
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October 13, 2015
  McDonough v. Anoka County - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel rules on consolidated appeal challenging dismissal of four separate actions alleging data privacy violations against numerous Minnesota cities, counties, government entities, law enforcement personnel, and Department of Public Safety commissioners and employees

Area of Law Statute of Limitations; Privacy

Issues Presented Whether district courts properly dismissed Plaintiffs' actions alleging violation of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act on statute of limitations and failure to meet pleading standard grounds.

Brief Summary Plaintiffs are four individuals who allege that various law enforcement officers accessed their drivers' license data without a permissible basis, in violation of the Drivers Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA"). 18 U.S.C. ยงยง 2721-2725.

Defendant cities and counties moved to dismiss on statute of limitation grounds, arguing that claims based on accesses occurring more than four years prior to the date of complaint were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Plaintiffs argued that the statute of limitation for each allegedly improper lookup did not begin to run until the lookup was discovered, or with due diligence should have been discovered, rendering their claims timely.

Defendant cities and counties also moved to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiffs failed to plead a plausible claim under the Twombly/Iqbal standard that the accesses were for an improper purpose. Defendant Department of Public Safety ("DPS") commissioners and employees moved to dismiss on the basis that the DPPA does not make them liable for permitting allegedly unlawful access by others.

In separate decisions, the district courts in each case dismissed the complaints, holding: (1) that claims based on lookups occurring more than four years prior to the filing of the complaint are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, declining to apply the discovery rule; (2) that Plaintiffs failed to meet the Twombly/Iqbal standard requiring them to plead a plausible claim that the lookups at issue lacked a valid law enforcement purpose; and (3) that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim against the DPS commissioners and employees. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district courts on the statute of limitations issue, holding that the discovery rule does not apply to DPPA claims. In so holding, the Eighth Circuit called into question its prior precedent on the discovery rule, based upon its reading of the Supreme Court's ruling in Gabelli v. SEC, 133 S. Ct. 1216 (2013). The Eighth Circuit observed that while it has generally "applied the discovery rule as the default statute-of-limitations rule in the absence of a contrary directive from Congress," the Supreme Court "has never adopted that position as its own."

Based upon its reading of Gabelli and TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19, 27 (2001), the Eighth Circuit held that where the text, structure, and purpose of a limitations provision suggest that Congress may not have intended for the discovery rule to apply, courts in the Eighth Circuit should "take into account the general policy underlying the statute of limitation, as well as equitable considerations relevant to the cause of action at hand, when determining whether to apply the discovery or occurrence rule." Applying these considerations to the DPPA, the Eighth Circuit held that the statute of limitations for DPPA claims runs from the date of the allegedly improper access, irrespective of when it was discovered.

With respect to the non-time barred claims, the Eighth Circuit conducted a fact intensive analysis of the non-time barred lookups to determine whether the facts pled were sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. The Eighth Circuit reversed three of the four cases, finding that the facts alleged by those Plaintiffs met the Twombly/Iqbal pleading standard, and remanded for further proceedings.

The Eighth Circuit also applied qualified immunity to affirm the dismissal of claims against DPS commissioners and employees.

The full text of the opinion may be found at http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/15/08/141754P.pdf

Panel Circuit Judges Beam, Colloton, and Wollman

Date of Issued Opinion August 20, 2015

Decided Affirmed in part and reversed in part

Docket Number 14-1754, 14-1756, 14-1765, 14-1974

Author Circuit Judge Wollman

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 10/13/2015 02:02 PM     8th Circuit  

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