The Arkansas Supreme Court today affirmed a Pulaski Circuit Court ruling that said Daniel Wren should be given unredacted State Police accident reports under the Freedom of Information Act. The State Police had appealed arguing that it had to redact personal information because of the federal driver’s protection act.
Wren, a lawyer, wants the records to solicit business.
The court affirmed 5-2, with Justices Karen Baker and Courtney Goodson dissenting.
Writing for the majority, Justice Robin Wynne noted that most accident reports automatically include personal information by a trooper scanning the code on a driver’s license, which picks up data maintained at the Office of Motor Vehicles. People involved in accidents can get unredacted copies of such reports, including information about other drivers. The federal law allows exceptions to privacy extended to motor vehicle records after fears of ID theft. The U.S. Supreme Court has held, however, that a law firm obtaining personal information and soliciting with that information is not a specifically permitted litigation exception.
But the Arkansas court found more persuasive case law in a Colorado federal court that held that accident reports were not motor vehicle records.
Keeping in mind the intent of Congress in passing the DPPA, it is clear that a vehicle accident report is not included in the definition of “motor vehicle record,” regardless of whether, as a matter of convenience, some of the information included in an accident report may be taken from or verified by a database maintained by the Office of Motor Vehicles.
Furthermore, Congress specifically provided that “personal information” does not include information on vehicular accidents. Because the DPPA does not prohibit information contained in accident reports from being released under FOIA, we affirm the ruling of the circuit court
Baker’s dissent, joined by Goodson, concluded after citing other statutes not mentioned by the majority:
The critical issue in this case is the source of the information and the origination of the report, not whether the traffic report itself is a motor vehicle record. Here, if the ASP acquired the information from the [Office of Motor Vehicles] OMV, then they are considered an “authorized recipient” of the information under subsection (c) and are expressly prohibited from redisclosing the information except as provided by statute.