November 11, 2019

November 11, 2019

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

County in PA Faces up to $68 Million in Privacy Related Damages

No industry or sector is immune to privacy or security issues.  This week a jury in a district court in Pennsylvania awarded $1,000 to each of the 68,000 class members who claimed that Bucks County, a county just outside Philadelphia, and several other municipal entities, violated state law by making their criminal records public, in Taha v Bucks County. Bucks County potentially faces up to $68 million in damages.

This case arises from claims brought by Daryoush Taha in 2012, who alleged that the county’s inmate search tool, which was made available to the public in 2008, included access to an online database with criminal history records for all current and former Bucks County Correctional Facility inmates dating back to 1938 (nearly 68,000 individuals), in violation of Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Records Information Act (“CHRIA”).

In 2016, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Taha, holding that Bucks County violated the CHRIA by releasing criminal history records for incidents older than three years that did not result in a conviction. Further, the district court certified a class of individuals for claims against the County regarding similar CHRIA violations stemming from public access to the online database.

As part of evidence, the plaintiffs pointed to an email exchange between two Bucks County employees regarding the online database, where the two concluded that only social security numbers required protection, without checking requirements under the CHRIA. The plaintiffs argued that failure to properly review state law was an indication of “reckless indifference” regarding whether the online base was in violation of the law. Under the CHRIA, punitive damages are awarded where there is a “willful” violation of the law. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that the definition of a “willful” violation in the context of the CHRIA should be considered “reckless difference”, and that the actions of the County employees indeed amounted to “reckless indifference”. Interestingly, the inmate search tool had undergone several audits by the Pennsylvania State Police and Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General and neither found any CHRIA violation.

Although the jury awarded $1000 per individual to nearly 68,000 individuals, totaling nearly $68 million in damages, this amount will likely be slightly less as some of the individuals in the initial class certification are deceased, but no small sum of money regardless.

With the EU’s GDPR one year in, California’s CCPA on the brink, and a myriad of other federal, state and local regulations taking effect or under consideration, and Pennsylvania’s own Supreme Court finding a common law obligation to safeguard personal information, the public’s sensitivity to privacy and security issues only continues to grow. Whether your organization is public or private, whether it is part of an industry highly susceptible to data breaches such as healthcare, or believed to be less susceptible like construction, it should be reevaluating its privacy and security programs and ensuring compliance with relevant legislation.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2019

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Principal

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently helps to co-lead the firm's Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also...

973- 538-6890
Jason C. Gavejian, Employment Attorney, Jackson Lewis, Principal, Restrictive Covenants Lawyer
Principal

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

Mr. Gavejian represents management exclusively in all aspects of employment litigation, including restrictive covenants, class-actions, harassment, retaliation, discrimination and wage and hour claims in both federal and state courts. Additionally, Mr. Gavejian regularly appears before administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the New Jersey Department of Labor. His practice also focuses on advice/counseling employers regarding daily workplace issues.

Mr. Gavejian represents companies with respect to inquiries from the HHS/OCR, state attorneys general, and other agencies alleging wrongful disclosure of personal/protected information. Mr. Gavejian negotiates vendor agreements and other data privacy and security agreements, including business associate agreements. His work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling and coaching clients through the process of investigating and responding to breaches of the personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI) they maintain about consumers, customers, employees, patients, and others, while also assisting clients in implementing policies, practices, and procedures to prevent future data incidents.

Mr. Gavejian’s litigation experience, coupled with his privacy practice, provides him with a unique view of many workplace issues and the impact privacy, data security, and social media may play in actual or threatened lawsuits.

Mr. Gavejian regularly provides training to both executives and employees and regularly speaks on current privacy, data security, monitoring, recording, BYOD/COPE, biometrics (BIPA), social media, TCPA, and information management issues. His views on these topics have been discussed in multiple publications, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGATE), National Law Review, Bloomberg BNA, Inc.com, @Law Magazine, Risk and Insurance Magazine, LXBN TV, Business Insurance Magazine, and HR.BLR.com.

Mr. Gavejian is the Co-Chair of Jackson Lewis’ Hispanic Attorney Resource Group, a group committed to increasing the firm’s visibility among Hispanic-American and other minority attorneys, as well as mentoring the firm's attorneys to assist in their training and development. Mr. Gavejian also previously served on the National Leadership Committee of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) and regularly volunteers his time for pro bono matters.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Gavejian served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Richard J. Donohue on the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County.

(973) 538-6890
Attorney

Maya Atrakchi is the Knowledge Management (“KM”) Attorney for Jackson Lewis P.C.’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security and International Employment Issues Practice Groups, and is based in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C.

212-545-4000