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MARGAN v. NILES

March 18, 2003

FRANK J. MARGAN, TAMMY M. MARGAN, JOHN M. MARGAN, AND DOREEN M. MARGAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS THE NATURAL PARENTS AND GUARDIANS OF THEIR INFANT CHILDREN, "A" MARGAN AND "E" MARGAN; JEFFREY MARGAN, PAUL M. MAHAN, ANTHONY PELLEGRINO, EILEEN PELLEGRINO, CLARK S. LOUER AND MARY ELLEN LOUER, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS THE NATURAL PARENTS, AND GUARDIANS OF THEIR INFANT CHILDREN, "S" LOUER, AND "T" LOUER; MICHAEL GOGUEN, AND NANCY GOGUEN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WILLIAM P. NILES; GARTH RUSSELL JOHNSTON; KEITH MCKENNA, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS AN AGENT AND/OR EMPLOYEE AND POLICE OFFICER OF THE TOWN OF GLENVILLE; AND THE TOWN OF GLENVILLE, NEW YORK; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurd, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM — DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Second — Conspiracy to violate the DPPA;

Third — Intentional infliction of emotional distress (state law);

Fourth — Harassment (state law); and

Fifth — Violation of the right to privacy (state law).

Defendants Keith McKenna ("McKenna") and Town of Glenville ("Glenville") separately move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Glenville moves to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety. McKenna moves for partial summary judgment. Defendants William Niles ("Niles") and Garth Russell Johnston ("Johnston") have made no motion. Plaintiffs oppose with respect to the first and second causes of action. Oral argument was heard on November 22, 2002, in Albany, New York. Decision was reserved.

II. FACTS

Defendant William Niles ("Niles") was an employee for the Hannaford Brothers ("Hannaford") grocery stores. (Pl.'s Ex. BB at 5.) Niles applied for and obtained workers' compensation benefits for an injury he allegedly suffered while on the job. (Id. at 8-9.) Hannaford assigned plaintiff Mary Ellen Louer ("Louer") to administer Niles' workers' compensation case. (Pl.'s Ex. X at 6.) Louer had reason to believe that Niles was not as disabled as he had claimed, and therefore retained the services of Compass Adjusters and Investigators ("Compass") to investigate Niles. (Id. at 46.) Compass then conducted surveillance of Niles. (Def. McKenna's Ex. O at 35-36.) Plaintiffs John M. Margan, Jeffrey Margan, Paul Mahan, and Anthony Pellegrino, (collectively the "Investigators") were Compass investigators who worked on the Niles case. (Def. McKenna's Exs. Q at 9; S at 10; T at 9-10; U at 10.)

Niles and his friend, defendant Garth Russell Johnston ("Johnston"), obtained the motor vehicle license plate numbers of the Investigators. Johnston then asked his friend, Glenville Police Officer McKenna, to run the license plate numbers and obtain information from the New York Statewide Police Information Network ("NYSPIN"), to which McKenna had access through the Glenville Police Department. (See Def. Glenville's Ex. F at 61, Def. Glenville's Ex. E at 42, 43, 48, Def. Glenville's Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶¶ 6, 7, 18; Def. McKenna's Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶¶ 15-24, 29.) Johnston also asked McKenna to run a "name search" on Louer. (Def. McKenna's Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶ 29.) McKenna ran the license plate numbers of the Investigators. (Id. at ¶ 17.) By running the license plates, he obtained information regarding the names of the owners of the vehicles and their addresses. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-22; Def. Glenville's Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶¶ 7-11.) He then provided this information to Johnston, who, in turn, provided the information to Niles. (Def. McKenna's Stmnt of Mat. Facts at ¶¶ 23-24; Def. Glenville's Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶¶ 12-13.) McKenna was unable to locate information on Louer. (Id. at ¶ 18; Pl.'s Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶ 18.) Niles and/or Johnston went to Louer's home; videotaped her family, including her children; delivered the videotape together with a threatening note to her home; sent her flowers with a threatening greeting card attached; and otherwise harassed or threatened her. (Def. Glenville's Stmnt. of Mat. Facts at ¶ 20; Pl.'s Ex. H at 16-20.) Niles and/or Johnston also engaged in acts of vandalism at the home of plaintiff John M. Margan. (Pl.'s Ex. H at 16-20.) Niles and/or Johnston also engaged in harassing and/or threatening conduct towards plaintiff Anthony Pellegrino (Def. Glenville's Ex. F at 64-65.) This conduct led to criminal charges against Niles and Johnston. (See generally Pl.'s Ex. H.) Both Niles and Johnston pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit extortion. (See Pl.'s Ex. H.) The underlying criminal acts are part of the same acts at issue in this matter. This action followed.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A moving party is entitled to summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The ultimate inquiry is whether a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party based on the evidence presented, the legitimate inferences that could be drawn from that evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, and the applicable burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). In determining a motion for summary judgment, all inferences to be drawn from the facts contained in the exhibits and depositions "must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Hawkins v. Steingut, 829 F.2d 317, 319 (2d Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, "the litigant opposing summary judgment `may not rest upon mere conclusory allegations or denials' as a vehicle for obtaining a trial." Quinn v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood Corp., 613 F.2d 438, 445 (2d Cir. 1980) (quoting SEC v. Research Automation Corp., 585 F.2d 31, 33 (2d Cir. 1978)).*fn1

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Driver's Privacy Protection Act (First Cause of Action)

1. Parties Protected

Defendants first argue that 18 U.S.C. § 2724 only applies to Doreen M. Margan, Jeffrey Margan, Paul Mahan, and Anthony Pellegrino, and not their spouses or children, because these are the only plaintiffs whose personal information may have been improperly obtained from motor vehicle records. Plaintiffs counter that the wording of the statute is broad enough to include all persons whose information may have been disclosed as a result of an improper use of motor vehicle records.

Information in a motor vehicle record may pertain to more than just the motor vehicle operator. For example, the title to a motor vehicle that is jointly owned by two or more people (e.g. a husband and wife or three friends) will contain information (such as names) pertaining to all those people. Similarly, the registration of a motor vehicle registered to one spouse ordinarily will contain information (such as address and telephone number) regarding the other spouse.*fn2 See 18 U.S.C. § 2725(3) (defining address and telephone number as personal information protected under the DPPA). This latter scenario is the subject of the instant debate. The specific question is whether the spouse and/or children of an individual whose address has been obtained from a motor vehicle record may maintain an action under the DPPA where the spouse and children share the same address as that individual.

A brief history of the DPPA is helpful in understanding its purpose and the ensuing discussion. The DPPA was part of crime fighting legislation enacted in response to the murder of a young woman in Los Angeles, California in 1989. See 139 Cong. Rec. S15745-01, S15761-66 (1993); 145 Cong. Rec. S14533-02, S14538 (1999). Rebecca Schaeffer was an actress who starred on a television show My Sister Sam in the late 1980s. See 139 Cong. Rec. S15745-01, S15765. One of Schaeffer's "fans," Robert Bardo, retained a private investigator who recorded Schaeffer's license plate number. The investigator then went to the California State Department of Motor Vehicles where, for a nominal fee, he was able to obtain Ms. Schaeffer's home address.*fn3 See id. With the knowledge of Schaeffer's home address, Bardo went to her home and murdered her. See id.

Following this incident, several members of Congress sought to prevent state motor vehicle departments from freely providing personal information obtained from motor vehicle records. See 145 Cong. Rec. S14533-02, S14538. In 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, of which the DPPA was a part. See Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Pub.L. No. 103-322, Tit. XXX, 108 Stat. 2099-2102, 18 U.S.C. § 2721 et. seq.*fn4 Through the DPPA, Congress intended to prevent stalkers, harassers, would-be criminals, and other unauthorized individuals from obtaining and using personal information from motor vehicle records. See 145 Cong. Rec. S14533-02, S14538 ("[T]he murder of Rebecca Schaeffer led to the [DPPA]."); 141 Cong. Rec. H416-06, H447 (1995) (statement of Rep. Dingell) ("Last year, as part of the crime bill, Congress heard the concerns of women who were being stalked because of easy access to motor vehicle records that reveal . . . addresses. To address this problem, Congress enacted the [DPPA]."); 140 Cong. Rec. H2518,01, H2527 (1994) (statement of Rep. Goss) ("[T]he intent of this bill is simple and straightforward: We want to stop stalkers from obtaining the name and address of their prey before another tragedy occurs . . . [T]he [DPPA] . . . is a reasonable and practical crime fighting measure."); 139 Cong. Rec. S15745-01, S15764-66 (1993) (statements of Sens. Robb, Biden and Harkin) (stating that "[t]his amendment closes a loophole in the law that permits stalkers to obtain — on demand — private, personal information about their potential victims" and discussing situations where: (1) anti-abortion activists obtained the name and address of an obstetrical patient from department of transportation records and sent her threatening letters; (2) an obsessive fan obtained the address of a fashion model from the department of motor vehicles, and then went to her home and assaulted her; and (3) a gang of teens located cars with expensive stereos, recorded the license numbers and found the owner's home address through motor vehicle records.) To further its intended goal, the DPPA provides for criminal penalties, 18 U.S.C. § 2723(a), and a private cause of action, 18 U.S.C. § 2724(a).

Section 2724(a) of the DPPA provides that:

A person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for a purpose not permitted under this chapter shall be liable to the individual to whom the information pertains, who may ...

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