The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles maintains a database containing personal information and photographs of all Florida driver’s license-holders, called D.A.V.I.D. Police officers throughout the state have access to this database to assist them in carrying out their law-enforcement duties. If police officers abuse their access rights, the drivers whose privacy rights
have been violated can sue under federal law. The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act or “DPPA” allows individuals whose information is improperly accessed to collect their attorney’s fees and statutory damages of $2,500 per violation.
However, a recent decision out of the Eleventh Circuit, Foudy v. Indian River County Sheriff’s Office¸ has made it slightly more difficult to bring these claims. The statute of limitations under the DPPA is four years. However, there has been some confusion as to whether the clock begins to run on the date that the violation occurred, or on the date that the victim discovers the violation.
A group of law enforcement officers accessed the Foudys’ information beginning in July, 2005 because of their distaste for women in law enforcement, Ms. Foudy’s physical beauty, and “morbid curiosity”. However, the Foudys did not learn that their information had been accessed until April, 2011. The Eleventh Circuit decided last year that the statute of limitations for DPPA began to run at the date the violation occurred, making all of their claims prior to 2008 untimely. However, in the recent decision, the plaintiffs tried to get their old claims in through a back door.
The general civil rights statute 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which allows suit for violations of the constitution or a federal law, also has a four-year statute of limitation. But many causes of action under § 1983 key off of the date the violation is discovered. The Foudy’s argued that they could still bring a § 1983 claim based on the violation of their rights under the D.P.P.A. and obtain relief for the pre-2008 violations. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, and definitively held that the DPPA’s statute of limitations travels with it in § 1983 cases.
The Foudy decision is a significant blow to civil rights attorneys looking to bring these types of cases, since many people are often unaware of when their information is being accessed by law-enforcement officers. If someone believes that their D.A.V.I.D information is being improperly accessed, the best course of action is to file a public records request for the D.A.V.I.D. logs. After the Foudy decision, DPPA plaintiffs can no longer rely on the fact that they didn’t know about the violation to excuse an untimely lawsuit.