High court to hear dispute over driver’s-privacy law
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has stepped into a dispute over whether lawyers can obtain personal information from driver’s-license records to recruit clients for lawsuits, despite a federal privacy law intended to shield motor-vehicle records.
The justices agreed yesterday to hear an appeal from three South Carolinians who objected to solicitations from lawyers to join a lawsuit against car dealers. Among the lawyers named in the Supreme Court appeal is Richard Harpootlian, who also is chairman of the South Carolina Democratic party.
At issue is whether lawyers may use information gleaned from South Carolina driver records, which they obtained by filing open-records requests. The federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which is aimed at protecting driver records, has an exception for lawsuits, and the Court will determine whether the lawyers’ actions qualify.
The case, Maracich v. Spears, is an appeal of a ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the lawyers’ actions did fall under the exception. According to court documents, the 4th Circuit was the first court to hold that lawyer solicitation qualifies for the exception. In contrast, the 11th Circuit, 3rd Circuit and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals have ruled that client solicitation is not protected under the exception.
First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this story.