The state of Minnesota is asking a federal judge to dismiss lawsuits filed by dozens of people whose driver's license information was accessed by a Department of Natural Resources employee.
In a motion filed Tuesday, the Minnesota Attorney General's office argues that states cannot be held liable for putative damages under the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act.
Five lawsuits have been filed against the former DNR employee, John Hunt, who was fired after DNR officials said he inappropriately accessed the records of 5,000 Minnesotans. At least 10 state officials from the DNR and the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the driver's license database, are also named in the suits.
Congress passed the Driver's Privacy Protection Act in 1994 to help prevent people's driver's license data from getting into the wrong hands. It says it's against the law "knowingly to obtain or disclose personal information, from a motor vehicle record" if the use of that record isn't specifically authorized by law. Hundreds of public agencies and private businesses have access to the database for everything from law enforcement to verifying someone has a license for insurance purposes.
Attorneys representing the state argue that Hunt was the only state employee who improperly accessed the records, and that the state is not liable for his actions.
"Neither the DPPA nor the constitutional right of privacy make government officials liable for simply supervising bad actors, or for creating or maintaining a database illegally accessed by other people," the attorneys argued.
A hearing on the motion to dismiss was scheduled for July.
Besides the lawsuits, Hunt also faces criminal charges.