Alleged Intrusions by Bailiff Support Lawsuit | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Tuesday, November 28, 2023 | Back issues
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Alleged Intrusions by Bailiff Support Lawsuit

OCALA, Fla. (CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss claims connected to a Florida court bailiff who allegedly accessed the confidential records of 42,000 people.

Kellean Truesdell hopes to represent a class allegedly owed damages by Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair and Clayton Thomas, a former bailiff.

Truesdell says Thomas used the county's Driver and Vehicle Identification Database, nicknamed DAVID, to access information on residents of Marion County.

From 2010 to 2013, Thomas allegedly accessed DAVID to view more than 42,000 people's personal information, "out of personal curiosity."

Truesdell says she received a letter from Blair in August 2013, coming clean about the breach. All of the individuals whom Blair contacted are women, and Thomas allegedly "only accessed information on DAVID relating to female citizens," the court noted.

Blair's letters emphasized that the unidentified employee who inappropriately accessed DAVID did not sell the information he found, and did not use it for identity theft or other criminal purpose, according to the complaint.

The letters further explained that the employee had been fired and they could call the sheriff's office with any questions.

Truesdell says Thomas' duties as a bailiff did not encompass any function or investigative police work, yet he had full access to DAVID.

She says the database gave Thomas access to each person's home address, color photograph or image, Social Security number, date of birth, state of birth, detailed vehicle registration information and description, prior and current home and mailing address, driving record, insurance carrier, emergency contacts, and the personal information of those contacts.

Truesdell also alleged that other unnamed employees illegally accessed information along with Thomas.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hodges refused on Jan. 30 to dismiss the claims against Blair and Thomas under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994, or DPPA, which regulates the disclosure and use of certain personal information contained in state motor vehicle records.

Truesdell claims the sheriff's office had full control of the DAVID system and should have ensured it was not being accessed for improper purposes. She also alleged that Blair knew of the employees' improper use but took no steps to prevent it.

The defendants failed to sway the court that the DPPA is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress' commerce powers because Thomas' alleged conduct did not include an economic event.

Citing precedent, Hodges likewise saw no violation of the 10th Amendment.

"The DPPA does not violate the Tenth Amendment because it does not mandate the states in their sovereign capacity to regulate their own citizens, to enact laws or regulations, or to enforce a federal regulation," the ruling states. "Instead, the DPPA regulates states as 'owners of data bases.'"

Hodges also decided Truesdell pleaded a sufficient claim against Blair.

"Contrary to Sheriff Blair's arguments, the court finds that Ms. Truesdell's complaint alleges more than enough factual detail of both purported customs, policies, and practices by the Marion County Sheriff's Office concerning the regulation (or lack thereof) of access to the DAVID database, as well as a known and obvious failure to train employees on how and when to access DAVID," Hodges wrote (parentheses in original.)

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