Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

High Court May Review Parking Ticket Privacy Issues

Last year we reported that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its opinion in a case, Senne v. Village of Palatine, that is of great concern for municipalities across the state.  In Senne, a class of plaintiffs brought a complaint against the Village of Palatine alleging that information disclosed on the Village’s parking citation placed on vehicles constituted a disclosure of personal information in violation of the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).  The parking citation disclosed the registered owner’s full name, address, driver’s license number, date of birth, sex, height, and weight.

Palatine’s potential exposure is $80 million.  Palatine and several interested parties, such as the International Municipal Lawyers Association and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, are in the process of requesting the U.S. Supreme Court to review the holding, but as of right now all local governments that issue parking citations are highly advised to limit the information written or printed on tickets left on the vehicles.

In the trial court, Palatine moved to dismiss the complaint citing several exemptions to the disclosure limitations under the Act.   One of Palatine’s primary arguments was the exception that allows a municipality to disclose personal information when it is necessary for the service of process in an administrative or court proceeding.  The trial court granted the Village’s motion and the Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Plaintiffs’ complaint stated a cause of action under the DPPA because the parking citation constituted a “disclosure” of personal information.   The Court ordered that the case be sent to the trial court for a determination as to what information could be permissibly disclosed under the exemption relied upon by the Village.

The concern raised by this case is that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals holding contains language that suggests that the majority of the Court would not agree that all of the information disclosed by the Village is permissible under the service of process exemption in the Act.  This language is particularly troubling given the plain language of the Act that provides that information that would otherwise constitute “personal information” is not considered personal information when a disclosure is made pursuant to an exemption in the Act.

In reaction to this case, municipal practitioners are advising their clients to refrain from including any of the information contained in the citation in the Senne case on their parking citations.  The reason for taking such a conservative approach in response to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals opinion is the potential liability for violating the Act which can include a penalty of $2,500 per violation as well as punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.

Until a final resolution is reached in this case, it is advisable that municipalities address the concerns raised by the holding of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by placing a blank citation under the windshield wiper that does not contain any personal information of the owner.   The citation can contain information regarding the location of the parking violation and the offending vehicle.  Subsequent to placing the blank ticket on the windshield, the issuing officer should prepare a copy of the citation with the owner’s personal information and file it with the clerk of the circuit court or the municipality’s administrative hearing division.

Please contact our office should you have any questions about how to proceed with issuing parking tickets until the Village of Palatine’s issue is resolved.


Kevin A. Chrzanowski

Author: Kevin A. Chrzanowski