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Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

January 12, 2018

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc., et al., Appellants
United States Department of Transportation, et al., Appellees

          Argued November 8, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:12-cv-01158)

          Joyce E. Mayers argued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were Paul D. Cullen, Sr., and Paul D. Cullen, Jr.

          Caroline D. Lopez, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Matthew M. Collette, Attorney, Paul M. Geier, Assistant General Counsel, U.S. Department of Transportation, Joy K. Park, Senior Trial Attorney, and Sue Lawless, Assistant Chief Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

          Before: Tatel, Griffith, and Srinivasan, Circuit Judges.



         In Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540 (2016), the Supreme Court held that "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation, " id. at 1549. In this case, several commercial truck drivers and their industry association claim they were injured by the Department of Transportation's violation of its statutory obligation to ensure the accuracy of a database containing driver-safety information. As explained in this opinion, we agree with the district court that, under Spokeo, the asserted injury is, by itself, insufficiently concrete to confer Article III standing. We reverse, however, with respect to two drivers whose information was released to prospective employers because dissemination of inaccurate driver-safety data inflicts an injury sufficiently concrete to confer standing to seek damages.


         To fulfill its mandate of ensuring "the highest degree of safety in motor carrier transportation, " the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, maintains the Motor Carrier Management Information System, a database of commercial truck drivers' safety records. 49 U.S.C. § 113(b). The database includes "accident reports and other safety violations." Weaver v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 744 F.3d 142, 143 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Maintaining the database requires collaboration between state and federal authorities. States serve as the primary reporters of information: they are obligated by statute to "collect[] and report[] . . . accurate, complete, and timely motor carrier safety data." 49 U.S.C. § 31102(c)(2)(P)(i). For its part, the Department must "ensure, to the maximum extent practical, [that] all the data is complete, timely, and accurate, " id. § 31106(a)(3)(F), and "prescribe technical and operational standards to ensure . . . uniform, timely, and accurate information collection and reporting by the States, " id. § 31106(a)(4)(A).

         Shippers and other firms looking to hire truck drivers can access certain information in the database, namely, "[c]ommercial motor vehicle accident reports, " "[i]nspection reports that contain no driver-related safety violations, " and "[s]erious driver-related safety violation inspection reports." Id. § 31150(a). The Department makes this information available through its Pre-Employment Screening Program, which provides employers with reports containing crash data from the previous five years and inspection data from the previous three. See U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Privacy Impact Assessment: Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) (Apr. 14, 2010). The Department must "ensure that any information that is released . . . will be in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act [FCRA] . . . and all other applicable Federal law." 49 U.S.C. § 31150(b)(1).

         To further guarantee the accuracy of the database, the Department must "provide a procedure for [drivers] to correct inaccurate information." Id. § 31150(b)(4). In order to accomplish this, the Department "established 'DataQs, ' a web-based dispute resolution procedure that allows '[drivers] to challenge[']" database information. Weaver, 744 F.3d at 143 (quoting Privacy Act of 1974; Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) 007 Pre-Employment Screening Program, 77 Fed. Reg. 42, 548, 42, 551 (July 19, 2012)). When a driver files a challenge, the Department forwards it to the relevant state and state officials "decide how to respond." Id.

         Appellants are five commercial truck drivers and their industry association, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. Between 2010 and 2013, state law-enforcement authorities cited each driver for violating safety regulations. See Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association v. Department of Transportation, 211 F.Supp.3d 252, 256 (D.D.C. 2016). The drivers successfully challenged the citations in state court: one driver was found not guilty after trial, and the others had their citations dismissed. Id. at 256-57. All but one of the drivers then asked through DataQs to have the violation reports relating to the citations removed from the Department's database. Their requests were rejected because, according to the relevant state authorities, the database at the time displayed only initial citations, not adjudicated outcomes. Id. at 257. The safety records of two drivers-Klint Mowrer and Fred Weaver, Jr.-including the challenged violation reports, were shared through the Pre-Employment Screening Program; the other drivers' records were never disseminated. Id. at 260-61.

         The individual drivers and the industry association then sued, challenging the Department's failure to ensure the accuracy of the database and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief under the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as damages under the FCRA. The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing (among other things) that the drivers lacked Article III standing because they failed to show concrete injury in fact. Id. at 258. The district court agreed and dismissed the case. Id. at 261. The drivers appeal, and now we consider the issue afresh. See Scenic America, Inc. v. ...

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