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Jones v. Rossides

September 28, 2009

JOSEPH JONES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GALE D. ROSSIDES, ACTING ADMINISTRATOR OF THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, four transportation security officers employed by the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA"), bring this action against defendants TSA, Gale D. Rossides in her capacity as Acting Administrator of the TSA, the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), and Janet Napolitano in her capacity as Secretary of the DHS. On March 31, 2008, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs' surviving claim is that defendants violated the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, by failing to establish appropriate safeguards to insure the security and confidentiality of personnel records.

Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment [#26]. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the entire record of this case, the Court concludes that the motion should be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 3, 2007, TSA discovered that a hard drive was "missing from a controlled area at the TSA Headquarters Office of Human Capital." Compl. ¶¶ 28--29. The hard drive contained personnel data for approximately 100,000 individuals employed by TSA between January 2002 and August 2005, including names, social security numbers, birth dates, payroll information, financial allotments, and bank account and routing information. Compl. ¶¶ 28, 29, 31. The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, regulates the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of an individual's personal information by federal government agencies. See 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Plaintiffs claim that defendants violated § 552a(e)(10), which requires that

Each agency that maintains a system of records shall . . . establish appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to insure the security and confidentiality of records and to protect against any anticipated threats or hazards to their security or integrity which could result in substantial harm, embarrassment, inconvenience, or unfairness to any individual on whom information is maintained . . .

§ 552a(e)(10). See Compl. ¶ 48). Plaintiffs also claim defendants "further violated the Privacy Act of 1974 when on or about May 3, 2007, there was an unauthorized disclosure of private, personnel data." See Compl. ¶ 49. Plaintiffs bring their claim under 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1)(D), which provides that whenever an agency "fails to comply with any other provision of this section, or any rule promulgated thereunder, in such a way as to have an adverse effect on an individual . . . the individual may bring a civil action against the agency, and the district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction. . . ." § 552a(g)(1)(D). Section 552a(g)(4) governs relief for claims under (g)(1)(D):

In any suit brought under the provisions of subsection (g)(1)(C) or (D) of this section in which the court determines that the agency acted in a manner which was intentional or willful, the United States shall be liable to the individual in an amount equal to the sum of--

(A) actual damages sustained by the individual as a result of the refusal or failure, but in no case shall a person entitled to recovery receive less than the sum of $1,000; and

(B) the costs of the action together with reasonable attorney fees as determined by the court.

5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(4).

II. ANALYSIS

Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because: (1) TSA had reasonable safeguards in effect at the time the hard drive was lost; (2) plaintiffs have no evidence of an intentional and willful violation of the Privacy Act; (3) plaintiffs cannot meet their burden of proof on either the adverse effects or actual damages elements necessary to prove their Privacy Act claim.

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion for summary judgment must be granted if the pleadings and evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In considering whether there is a triable issue of fact, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 255. The party opposing a motion for summary judgment, however, "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." id. at 248, that would permit a reasonable jury to find in ...


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