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Heglund v. Aitkin County

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 7, 2017

Jennifer Ray Heglund; Jamie Lee Heglund, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
Aitkin County; City of Aitkin; City of Babbitt; City of Biwabik; City of Breitung; City of Chisholm; City of Cloquet; Cook County; City of Cook; Crow Wing County; City of Deer River; Douglas County; City of Duluth; City of Ely; City of Emily; City of Eveleth; City of Floodwood; City of Forest Lake; City of Gilbert, Defendants, City of Grand Rapids, Defendant-Appellee, Hennepin County; City of Hermantown; City of Hibbing; City of Hill City; City of Hoyt Lakes; City of International Falls; Itasca County; City of Keewatin; Lake County; City of Leech Lake; City of Maple Grove; City of Minneapolis; City of Nashwauk; Norman County; City of Orono; Pine County; Ramsey County; City of Roseau; City of Sartell; Scott County; Sherburne County; City of St. James; St. Louis County; City of St. Paul; City of Two Harbors; City of Virginia; Washington County; Winona County; Michael Campion, in his individual capacity as the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; Ramona Dohman, in her individual capacity as the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety; John and Jane Does (1-600), acting in their individual capacity as supervisors, officers, deputies, staff, investigators, employees or agents of the other governmental agencies; Department of Public Safety Does (1-30), acting in their individual capacity as officers, supervisors, staff, employees, independent contractors or agents of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety; Entity Does (1-100), including cities, counties, municipalities and other entities sited in Minnesota, Defendants, Frank Scherf, acting in his individual capacity as the Assistant Chief of the Grand Rapids Police Department, Defendant-Appellee, Kevin Friebe, acting in his individual capacity as a Sergeant of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office; Eric Hanegmon, acting in his individual capacity as a Deputy of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office; David Lovaas, acting in his individual capacity as a Deputy of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office; Diane McComesky, acting in her individual capacity as an employee of St. Louis County; Linda Smith, acting in her individual capacity as an employee of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office; Wayne Toewe, acting in his individual capacity as a Deputy of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office; Kenneth Weis, acting in his individual capacity as a Deputy of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office; Roberta Nyland; William Evans, acting in his individual capacity as a Deputy of the St. Louis County Sheriffs Office, Defendants.

          Submitted: May 11, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         Jennifer Heglund and her husband Jamie Heglund sued numerous Minnesota cities and counties, state officials, and hundreds of John and Jane Does, alleging that police officers had improperly accessed their private information in the State's driver's license database. The Heglunds later amended their complaint to replace one of the John Does with Frank Scherf, the former Grand Rapids assistant chief of police. The district court granted summary judgment for Scherf and Grand Rapids on the ground that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The court concluded that the Heglunds' amended complaint naming Scherf did not relate back to the timely original complaint, because the Heglunds did not make a "mistake" within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) by suing "John Doe" rather than Scherf in their original complaint. We agree with the district court's[1]conclusion that the Heglunds' use of the John Doe pleading device was not a "mistake" under Rule 15(c), and therefore affirm.

         I.

         Jennifer Heglund is a former law enforcement officer who worked for a few different cities and one county in Minnesota. In 2013, Jennifer and her husband Jamie requested an audit from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to determine whether their private information had been accessed through the State's driver's license database. According to the complaint, they requested the audit because Jennifer's ex-husband, a Minnesota State Trooper, had harassed Jamie on several occasions, and Jennifer was concerned that her ex-husband had obtained the couple's private information.

         The audit showed that Jennifer's information had been accessed 446 times between 2003 and 2013, and that Jamie's had been accessed 34 times from 2006 to 2013. On September 9, 2013, the Heglunds sent notice-of-claim letters to the entities identified in the official audits; one was the City of Grand Rapids. The letter listed the dates and times of the accesses that the Heglunds claimed were in violation of the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. § 2721.

         The DPPA forbids state motor vehicle departments from disclosing personal information contained in motor vehicle records-such as an individual's name, address, or photograph-except for uses explicitly enumerated in the statute. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721(a)-(b), 2725(3). One such permissible use is by "any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions." Id. § 2721(b)(1). A person who knowingly obtains, discloses, or uses an individual's personal information from a motor vehicle record "for a purpose not permitted" is liable to the individual. Id. § 2724(a). The Minnesota Department of Public Safety collects personal information in the process of registering and licensing drivers of motor vehicles. State and local law enforcement, including the Grand Rapids police department, have access to this information through an Internet portal.

         On January 31, 2014, the Heglunds sued nearly three dozen cities, more than a dozen counties, the current and former commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and hundreds of John and Jane Does. The Heglunds brought claims for violations of the DPPA under the Act itself and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state-law claims for common-law invasion of privacy. Many of the defendants, including Grand Rapids, promptly moved to dismiss the claims as insufficiently pleaded and barred by the applicable four-year statute of limitations. See 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a); McDonough v. Anoka County, 799 F.3d 931, 939, 943 (8th Cir. 2015). The district court dismissed most of the DPPA claims as untimely and dismissed the § 1983 and invasion-of-privacy claims for failure to state a claim.

         After a series of settlements, the only remaining claim was based on the access of Jennifer's information on March 25, 2010 by someone at the Grand Rapids Police Department.[2] The Heglunds served Grand Rapids with discovery requests on October 14, 2014. On December 1, the city replied, informing the Heglunds that Frank Scherf was the officer who had accessed Jennifer's information. In February 2015, Grand Rapids moved for summary judgment, but the district court denied the motion so that the Heglunds could conduct discovery. The Heglunds then deposed Scherf. In March 2015, the Heglunds moved to amend the complaint to substitute Scherf for a John Doe defendant. The district court granted the motion to amend.

         Grand Rapids and Scherf then moved for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the Heglunds' amended complaint did not relate back to the timely original complaint because the Heglunds' use of "John Doe" rather than "Scherf" in the original complaint was not a "mistake" within the meaning of Rule 15(c). That rule provides that an amended complaint "relates back" to the original complaint for purposes of timing if the party added in the amendment "knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity." The district court ruled alternatively that even if the action were timely, Scherf would be entitled to summary judgment because the Heglunds failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Scherf violated the DPPA.[3] The Heglunds appeal.

         II.

         As a preliminary matter, Scherf and Grand Rapids argue that the Heglunds lack Article III standing to bring their DPPA claim, because they have not demonstrated an injury in fact. Scherf and the city contend that a statutory violation alone is not an injury in fact, and that Jennifer's professed anxiety from knowing that Scherf improperly accessed her personal information is not sufficiently concrete to constitute an injury in fact ...


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