New lawsuit over breach of driver's license data joins ever growing list

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2013 - 9:05 PM

At least nine federal lawsuits have been filed related to misuse of driver's license data.

Another lawsuit emerged this week alleging that government employees misused driver's license data, marking the latest of several legal battles over the issue now winding through federal court.

In its third such lawsuit, law firm Farrish Johnson filed suit against the state this week on behalf of a man whose record was allegedly among 1,100 queried by an unnamed employee at the Minnesota Department of Human Services over 11 months -- largely without an authorized purpose. The suit is seeking class-action status.

Altogether, at least nine federal lawsuits have been filed in the last year relating to misuse of the driver and vehicle services (DVS) database. All but one target government entities and four are related to a recent breach.

Next week, the state's legislative auditor is expected to release a highly anticipated report on the DVS database. The results of that report are likely to shape legislation state lawmakers are crafting to curb misuse.

Law firms have been aggressively pursuing litigation related to the data misuse in recent months, ever since a former St. Paul police officer won more than $1 million in settlements from local governments stemming from a DVS lawsuit. The former officer, Anne Marie Rasmusson, has demanded in a settlement with the state that they perform better audits and training relating to the DVS database.

The database, which contains photographs, addresses and driving records on Minnesotans with a license, is protected by state and federal law against unauthorized use. Public employees commonly misuse the data by peeking into files without an authorized purpose, state records show, but criminal penalties are rare.

Farrish Johnson, which is based in Mankato, is already engaged in two other DVS lawsuits seeking class-action status.

In November, the law firm filed suit against Rock County in southwestern Minnesota after a child support employee allegedly made 4,000 DVS queries over four months. This week, they filed suit against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) relating to a manager misusing thousands of records. That employee, John Hunt, also is facing criminal charges.

Hunt focused the vast majority of his searches on women, including several hundred politicians, journalists, judges and law enforcement officers, according to the criminal complaint.

Farrish Johnson attorney Scott Kelly said Friday that one of his plaintiffs met Hunt on Match.com and later received one of the 5,000 data breach letters.

"At one of the times they dated, [Hunt] said something. And she thought, 'That's odd, how does he know that?'" Kelly said. "And then when his name came out in the press, she put two and two together and she said, 'You know, that's how he knew that.'"

Hunt's attorney, Fred Bruno, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Farrish Johnson is one of four firms that have filed suits relating to the DNR case. All of them are seeking class-action status.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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