TAMPA — An appeals court is investigating the complaint from a woman who claims a sergeant at the Marion County Sheriff's Office violated her privacy and accessed her personal information as well as the personal information of thousands of others by accessing their vehicle identification database.
Kellean K. Truesdell alleges Clayton Thomas abused his power and access to the vehicle identification database and requests that Thomas and Chris Blair, the sheriff of Marion County, pay damages.
Thomas was a sergeant at the Marion County Sheriff's Office from January 2010 to July 2013, during which time he used Florida driver and vehicle identification database information to pull personal information about thousands of people, many times without proper cause, the suit says.
Thomas has said that numerous searches were "motivated by curiosity."
The suit says Truesdall's information was accessed Feb. 28, 2012, by Thomas without justification. Truesdall alleges Thomas and the sheriff's office "failed to prevent unauthorized access to the database."
Truesdall also said the sheriff's office was negligent in failing to notify victims of the breach of privacy that their information had been accessed, a violation of Florida law and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles statutes.
The district court refused Truedall's request for a class action lawsuit, ruling that "each putative class member’s personal information may vary for each class member, ... resulting in numerous mini-trials and a lack of typicality and commonality.”
Truedall moved the case to district court, seeking a class-wide judgment for liquidated damages. She contends she deserves a new trial as "[the] punitive damage awards [of $100 against Thomas and $5,000 against Blair, in his official capacity, were] manifestly unjust, against the overwhelming weight of the evidence, and contrary to the court’s instruction regarding punishment and deterrence."
The appeals court explained their ruling, stating that "the Act permits punitive damages against municipal agencies . . . the district court did not abuse its discretion when it assessed liquidated damages for both occasions when Thomas accessed Truesdell’s information . . . the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to certify a class action . . . the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to grant a new trial . . . the district court did not err when it instructed the jury that punitive damages should bear a reasonable relationship to compensatory damages."
The court has ruled in favor of Truesdall in this situation.