An Ohio District Court Rejects a Constitutional Claim for Privacy in Personal Information When the Only Identifiable Risk is Fin

Lambert filed suit against Greg Hartmann and the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her constitutional right of privacy. In 2003, Lambert had been issued a speeding ticket, which was published along with her name, signature, home address, birth date, driver’s license number, and social security number on the Hamilton County Clerk’s website. Publication of this information resulted in identity theft: an individual used Lambert’s identity to obtain a credit card and charge thousands of dollars of goods before being apprehended.

The court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding the Lambert had not stated a claim for a constitutional right to privacy in her personal information. While recognizing that the Ohio Supreme Court had previously found a federal constitutional right of privacy in social security numbers, State ex. rel. Beacon Journal Publ’g Co. v. City of Akron, 640 N.E.2d 164 (Ohio 1994), the court concluded under more recent precedent that the constitutional right to privacy cannot be automatically applied to a broad category of information. Specifically, under the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation of Supreme Court precedent “the Constitution does not encompass a ‘general right to nondisclosure of private information.’” Lambert v. Hartmann, No. 1:04CV837, 2006 WL 3833529, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 29, 2006) (citing J.P. v. DeSanti, 653 F.2d 1080 (6th Cir. 1981)). Rather the court followed the Sixth Circuit’s two-step test to analyze right-of-privacy claims: First, “the interest at stake must implicate either a fundamental right or one implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” Id. at*4. Second, “the government's interest in disseminating the information must be balanced against the individual's interest in keeping the information private.” Id.

Under this test, the court concluded that Lambert’s alleged privacy interest in her personal information did not meet the first prong, neither implicating “a fundamental right” nor “a right implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” since the Plaintiff only identified the risk of financial harm resulting from its disclosure. The court distinguished other Sixth Circuit cases identifying a constitutional privacy interest in personal information based on the interest in personal security and bodily integrity, Kallstrom v. City of Columbus, 136 F.3d 1055 (6th Cir. 1998), or highly personal details of a rape case before the public interest in prosecution predominated, Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673 (6th Cir. 1998). While “not unmindful of the problems which may result from the release of personal information,” the court nonetheless found it “beyond dispute that plaintiff's injury from the release of information in this case bears no equivalence to the potential and actual harm suffered by the Kallstrom and Bloch plaintiffs.” Lambert, 2006 WL 3833529, at *5.

Upon dismissing Lambert’s federal claims, the court then refused to retain jurisdiction over her state law privacy claims. Instead the court found these issues more appropriate for state court resolution.

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