All but one of the snooping lawsuits filed against the city of Minneapolis over breaches of driver’s license data have been settled or dismissed, with the city paying $1.2 million to compensate victims.
After voting in May to pay $193,500 to TV anchor Alix Kendall, whose information was repeatedly looked up by Minneapolis police officers for no good reason, the City Council has now settled 13 of the 34 lawsuits filed against it, while another 20 have been dismissed or dropped, according to data provided by the City Attorney’s Office.
The $1.2 million in payouts does not include the time dedicated to the cases by Minneapolis employees, especially City Attorney Susan Segal’s office.
“We’ve handled all these cases internally in our office,” Segal said. “It’s been a very painful lesson to all of us in making sure that privacy rights are honored and that we are following all rules and laws related to the handling of data.”
Minneapolis was one of several local governments sued after widespread misuse of the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services database. Mostly over-curious cops looked at photographs, addresses and driving records of dozens of Minnesotans, many of them local celebrities.
The snooping first became a scandal in 2012, and one woman, former St. Paul police officer Anne Marie Rasmusson, received more than $1 million in settlements, including $392,500 from the city of Minneapolis.
That was the largest payout for the city, and the dollar figures for settlements across the state came down after KSTP producer Beth McDonough’s case was thrown out in U.S. District Court in 2014.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out nine lawsuits in 2016, ruling that the statute of limitations had run out on many of the lookups and that plaintiffs had to do more than point to a high volume of lookups to be entitled to damages.
“The amount of damages that could be claimed was reduced,” said Sonia Miller-Van Oort, a lawyer with Sapientia Law Group who has represented several plaintiffs in data privacy lawsuits.
As has been the case across the state, the names of the people who looked up driver’s license data have not been released.
Citing an exemption in the public records law for “electronic access data,” the state Department of Public Safety declined to release the names of any of the snoopers, and the state agency that interprets the open records law said DPS got it right.
The last case pending against the city of Minneapolis is a lawsuit filed by Amy Krekelberg, a Minneapolis police officer who said employees of 40 different entities in the state accessed her private information nearly 1,000 times from 2003 to 2013.
The city of St. Paul settled its part of the Krekelberg lawsuit by agreeing to pay her $29,500 in 2017.
Miller-Van Oort said that the cases helped keep government accountable.
“Litigation is an important way in which these types of issues can be brought to light and corrected,” Miller-Van Oort said.