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Officer’s use of vehicle records invaded couple’s privacy rights

Amount:

$15,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Florida

Venue:

Federal

Court:

U.S. District Court, Southern District, Fort Lauderdale

Injury Type(s):

mental/psychological-anxiety

Case Type:

Government – Police; Civil Rights – 42 USC 1983; Government – Municipalities; Privacy – Invasion of Privacy; Civil Rights – Police as Defendant

Case Name:

Claude Letourneau v. City of Pembroke Pines, Florida, and Melodie Carpio, indvidually,
No. 17-cv-60082

Date:

January 10, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Claude Letourneau (Male), 

Cindy Lynn Thibault (Female)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Michael H. Glasser;
Rudenberg and Glasser, P.A.;
Fort Lauderdale,
FL,
for
Claude Letourneau, Cindy Lynn Thibault ■ Eric Steven Rudenberg;
Rudenberg and Glasser, P.A.;
Fort Lauderdale,
FL,
for
Claude Letourneau, Cindy Lynn Thibault

Defendant(s):

Melodie Carpio, 

City of Pembroke Pines, Florida

Defense Attorney(s):

Scott D Alexander;
Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman, P.A.;
Fort Lauderdale,
FL,
for
City of Pembroke Pines, Florida ■ Robert C. Buschel;
Buschel & Gibbons, P.A.;
Fort Lauderdale,
FL,
for
Melodie Carpio

Facts:

In January 2017, plaintiff Claude Letourneau, a pilot, sued Melodie Carpio, an officer with the city of Pembroke Pines, alleging that she had used her position to illegally access personal information about him and his girlfriend, plaintiff Cindy Lynn Thibault, a nurse. In May 2014, according to Letourneau, Carpio began illegally viewing his confidential driver’s license information without a legitimate purpose. As a police officer, Carpio had access to the Driver and Vehicle Identification Database (DAVID), and the databases for the Florida and National Crime Information Centers (FCIC/NCIC). Letourneau claimed that Carpio illegally accessed Letourneau’s information 90 times on DAVID and 11 times on FCIC/NCIC through 2016, and that she accessed Thibault’s information 95 times on DAVID and 57 times on FCIC/NCIC over the same time period. Letourneau sued Carpio and Pembroke Pines, alleging the city was vicariously liable for the officer’s actions because Carpio was in the scope of her employment with the city when she accessed the databases. Thibault joined the lawsuit after it was filed and the caption was amended. The plaintiffs argued that Cardio’s actions were in willful or reckless disregard of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which governs disclosure of personal information gathered by state departments of motor vehicles. They also claimed Cardio’s actions violated their civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as codified by 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. The city contended that Carpio was a rogue employee who was not acting in the city’s interests when she accessed Letourneau and Thibault’s personal information. The court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the claims against it. The court also granted a motion to dismiss the civil rights-violations claims against Carpio. The only issue at trial was the allegation that Carpio had willfully and recklessly violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Carpio admitted during a 2016 Internal Affairs investigation, which had revealed her use of the databases, that she had obtained the plaintiffs’ personal motor vehicle records for a purpose not permitted under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Carpio had entered a romantic relationship with Thibault’s ex-husband. Thibault and her ex-husband had a daughter, and the plaintiffs claimed that Carpio’s searches were motivated by a concern for the girl’s safety. They also claimed that Carpio had admitted, during the investigation into her possible misuse of the databases, that she had accessed the information “out of curiosity.” The plaintiffs asserted that Carpio also used the illegally obtained information to stalk them. In particular, she allegedly got home financing applications sent to the couple’s house. Carpio needed to provide the plaintiffs’ personal information in order to get these applications mailed to their home. They further claimed that Carpio created social media accounts in Thibault’s name and used them to post Thibault’s private photos online. Carpio sent them anonymous pictures, text messages and letters containing libelous statements about Thibault. The activities stopped in 2016, during the city’s investigation of Carpio.

Injury:

Letourneau and Thibault claimed that Carpio’s actions caused them anxiety and made them uncomfortable in their daily lives. They did not seek medical treatment. Letourneau and Thibault sought recovery of damages for past and future pain and suffering along with punitive damages. Carprio maintained that the plaintiffs were not damaged by her use of the databases.

Result:

The jury awarded Letourneau and Thibault $7,500 each. It found that Carpio’s conduct was in willful or reckless disregard of the law, but it did not award punitive damages.

Claude Letourneau: $7,500 Personal Injury: actual or compensatory damages; Cindy Lynn Thibault: $7,500 Personal Injury: actual or compensatory damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Beth Bloom

Trial Length:

1
 days

Trial Deliberations:

2
 hours

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel and counsel of the city of Pembroke Pines. Cardio’s counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.