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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Interesting 7th Circuit decision Feb. 6th involves 1st amendment challenge

In Scott Dahlstrom v. Sun-Times Media, LLC (ND Ill.), a 33-page opinion, Judge Flaum writes:

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2721 et seq., prohibits individuals from knowingly obtaining or disclosing “personal information” from a motor vehicle record. In this interlocutory appeal, five Chicago police officers brought suit against Sun-Times Media, alleging that the publishing company violated the DPPA by obtaining each officer’s birth date, height, weight, hair color, and eye color from the Illinois Secretary of State’s motor vehicle records, and publishing that information in a newspaper article that criticized a homicide investigation lineup in which the officers participated. Sun-Times moved to dismiss the officers’ complaint, arguing that the published information does not constitute “personal information” within the meaning of the DPPA, or, in the alternative, that the statute’s prohibition on acquiring and disclosing personal information from driving records violates the First Amend-ment’s guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press.

As to the question of statutory interpretation, we con-clude that the DPPA’s definition of “personal information” extends to the details Sun-Times published here. With re-spect to the First Amendment challenge, we conclude that Sun-Times possesses no constitutional right either to obtain the officers’ personal information from government records or to subsequently publish that unlawfully obtained infor-mation. We therefore affirm the district court’s denial of Sun-Times’s motion to dismiss. * * *

For these reasons, we conclude that the DPPA’s prohibi-tion on disclosing the Officers’ personal information does not violate Sun-Times’s First Amendment rights. As this is an as-applied challenge, our holding is limited to the facts and circumstances of this case. We do not opine as to wheth-er, given a scenario involving lesser privacy concerns or in-formation of greater public significance, the delicate balance might tip in favor of disclosure. We hold only that, where members of the press unlawfully obtain sensitive information that, in context, is of marginal public value, the First Amendment does not guarantee them the right to publish that information. The district court therefore did not err in denying Sun-Times’s motion to dismiss the Officers’ claim that Sun-Times violated their rights under the DPPA.

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the district court’s denial of Sun-Times’s motion to dismiss and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 8, 2015 01:39 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions