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Data misuse lawsuit joins growing list of cases

Posted by: Eric Roper under Complaint sagas Updated: February 15, 2013 - 11:07 AM

A Mankato law firm has filed its third lawsuit on behalf of people who say government employees misused their drivers license data.

The firm, Farrish Johnson, filed suit against the state in federal court this week alleging that an unnamed employee at the Minnesota Department of Human Services accessed 1,100 motor vehicle records 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 DVS data misuse. All but one target government entities.

The driver and vehicle services (DVS) database, which contains photographs, addresses and driving records on nearly every Minnesotan, is protected by state and federal law against unauthorized use. Misuse of the database is common in Minnesota, state records show, but criminal penalties are rare.

Law firms have been aggressively pursuing lawsuits related to drivers license misuse in recent months, ever since a former St. Paul cop won more than $1 million in settlements from local governments stemming from a DVS lawsuit.

Farrish Johnson is already engaged in two other lawsuits requesting class-action status.

In November, they 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.

The firm is one of four that have filed suits seeking class-action status related to the DNR case. The employee, John Hunt, is also facing criminal charges.

Farrish Johnson placed an ad in the local newspaper to find plaintiffs for the Rock County case.

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

The former St. Paul cop, Anne Marie Rasmusson, has demanded in a settlement with the state that they perform better audits and training relating to the database.

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