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Legal Group Denied Access to Potential Plaintiff List

(CN) - The 3rd Circuit blocked a legal aid group's bid to discover the names and addresses of 12,000 workers whose license plate numbers were allegedly tagged by union organizers looking to round up plaintiffs for possible class actions.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation sought the information, despite a protective order shielding it. The Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) had collected the names in an effort to contact potential litigants for possible class actions against employers.

To get the information, union organizers scoured Cintas' parking lots, jotting down license plate numbers and tagging the vehicles using state motor vehicle records. The union, now called UNITE HERE, also conducted about 13,700 motor vehicle searches on Westlaw over a two-year period, according to Westlaw's records.

Of those Westlaw searches, 1,576 pertained to Cintas. Some of the targeted Cintas employees, upset about being contacted at home, filed a class action accusing UNITE of violating their rights under the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act.

The district court ruled for the workers, and barred the union from using or disclosing the illegally obtained names and addresses. That information was further safeguarded by a protective order.

The legal aid foundation sought access to the information in order to notify workers whose rights may have been violated during the union's tagging campaign.

But the Philadelphia-based appeals court said the foundation lacks standing to challenge the protective order. The group's claim that a litigation exemption allowed it to view the records failed, the court added, because there was no existing lawsuit.

The three-judge panel saw little difference's between the union's impermissible tagging campaign and the legal aid group's quest for the same illegally obtained information.

It agreed with the lower court that the litigation exception "requires something more than merely using the protected records to identify potential litigants."

"The information the [foundation] wants to obtain would do nothing more than identify potential litigants and claimants who may wish to pursue remedies for UNITE's violation of the DPPA," Judge McKee wrote.

"That is not enough to compromise the privacy afforded motorists by the DPPA."

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