Wednesday, 19 February 2014 04:19

Lambert v. Hartmann: Financial Harm and Informational Privacy

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In 2003, Cynthia Lambert was cited for speeding, and a police officer issued her the Ohio Uniform Traffic Ticket, which included her name, home address, date of birth, driver's license number, Social Security number, and her signature. The ticket with this information was placed on file at the Hamilton County (Ohio) County Clerk's Office and then published on the Clerk's website.

 

About a year later, Lambert got a call from a Sam's Club store about a large purchase made by a woman claiming to be Lambert and using her driver's license and personal information to buy more than $8,000 in electronics products. The following day, Lambert got a call from Home Depot about a credit card account that was opened in her name by a woman using a driver's license with Lambert's personal information on it. This time, the thief charge about $12,000 to this account. The driver's license number used by the thief was wrong by one number. Lambert found the speeding ticket she received on the county clerk's website and saw that the police officer writing the ticket had recorded her driver's license number with the erroneous digit. Lambert then discovered that police had arrested a women alleged to be using her identity, who later pleaded guilty to federal felony charges.

In 2004, Lambert sued the Hamilton County Clerk, Greg Hartman, and others in federal court for violations of Ohio's Privacy Act, invasion of privacy, unlawful publication of private facts, and public nuisance. She alleged that in spite of learned in 2002 that identity theft had been committed using data obtained from the clerk's website and receiving a warning by other county officials that the website provided "fertile ground for identity theft," the clerk's office continued to publish traffic tickets with the Social Security numbers on them until 2004.

According to court documents, Lambert "later moved to amend her complaint to add a claim under Ohio's Privacy Act, R.C. Chapter 1347. While this motion was pending, the clerk moved to dismiss Lambert's complaint. The federal court dismissed Lambert's federal claims with prejudice and dismissed Lambert's remaining state claims without prejudice. A month later, Lambert sued the clerk in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas."

According to documents from the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, "Lambert sued the Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the publication of the citation violated her constitutional right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She further asserted that her identity had been stolen by a third party as a direct result of the Clerk’s publication of the citation, and that she had consequently suffered economic damages, damage to her personal credit rating, and damage to her reputation. Lambert also raised state-law claims and sought to certify her complaint as a class action. The Defendants moved to dismiss Lambert’s complaint on the basis that she had failed to state a claim under § 1983. Concluding that Lambert’s § 1983 claim must fail because her alleged privacy interest was not of a constitutional dimension, the district court granted the Defendants’ motion. The court then dismissed her pendent state-law claims without prejudice. Lambert argues that the court erred in dismissing her complaint and renews her claim that the Defendants violated her constitutional right to privacy." The Sixth Circuit then affirmed the district court's judgment.

According to the Court of Appeals for the First Appellate District of Ohio, "Lambert alleged that she was harmed when her identity was stolen after the clerk had published her social-security number and other personal, private information on the clerk's public website, despite knowing that identity theft was a probable result. The trial court dismissed Lambert's complaint under Civ.R. 12(B)(6) and (C), without opinion. Lambert now appeals, asserting in a single assignment of error that the trial court erred by dismissing her complaint. We agree. Lambert alleged sufficient facts to survive a Civ.R. 12(B)(6) and (C) motion. The facts alleged, if determined to be true, supported a cause of action for invasion of privacy, public nuisance, and violations of Ohio's Privacy Act. Furthermore, Lambert's claims were not barred by the Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act."

Additionally, the court sustained "Lambert's assignment of error. This court, same as the trial court, is bound by law to treat as true all the allegations of the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences on behalf of Lambert. Because of this high legal standard, the allegations in the complaint live for another day. {¶31} Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with the law and this decision."

Resources

Lambert v. Hartman, Court of Appeals First Appellate District of Ohio Hamilton County, Ohio. Decision, September 26, 2008

Lambert v. Hartman, United States Court Of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Opinion, February 25, 2008

Ohio Privacy Act

Fourteenth Amendment, United States Constitution

 

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