from the Iowa District Court for Wapello County, Randy
appeals a district court judgment ordering it to release to a
citizen the identities of all individuals detected as
speeding by its automated traffic enforcement program under
the Iowa Open Records Act. REVERSED AND
E. Schrock and Skylar J. Limkemann of Smith Mills Schrock
Blades Monthei P.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellants.
Gardner of Denefe, Gardner & Zingg, P.C., Ottumwa, for
L. Hinders, Eric M. Updegraff, and Alex E. Grasso of Hopkins
& Huebner, P.C., Des Moines, for amicus curiae Iowa
League of Cities.
F. Davison Jr., Des Moines, for amicus curiae Iowa Freedom of
case requires us to interpret provisions of the Driver's
Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. §§
2721-2725 (2012), and a corresponding Iowa state law, Iowa
Code § 321.11 (2017), to decide whether they overcome
the general rule of public disclosure set forth in the Iowa
Open Records Act, id. §§ 22.1-.14.
police sergeant was driving a patrol vehicle while off-duty.
He received an automated traffic enforcement (ATE) citation
for speeding from the city. As a private citizen, he then
served a chapter 22 open records request. He specifically
asked for the names of all persons who had and had not been
issued ATE citations by the city after their vehicles were
detected as speeding by an ATE camera.
city denied the request for the names, contending the DPPA
and Iowa Code section 321.11 prohibited disclosure of the
requested information. This citizen went to district court,
and the court granted his petition for mandamus, ordered the
city to disclose the names, and awarded attorney fees and
expenses. The city appealed.
appeal, the city contends that the district court erred in
ordering the production of records whose disclosure is
prohibited by the DPPA and Iowa Code section 321.11.
Additionally, the city contends the district court abused its
discretion in awarding the citizen an unreasonable amount of
attorney fees and costs.
agree with the city's first argument. Because the
personal identifying information sought by this citizen comes
from a vehicle registration and driver's license
database, its public disclosure is presumptively prohibited
under the DPPA and Iowa Code section 321.11. Although both
statutes allow disclosure under certain limited
circumstances, none of those circumstances apply here.
Accordingly, we determine that the city did not commit an
open records violation, and we reverse the judgment of the
district court and remand for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
Facts and Procedural Background.
facts in this case are largely undisputed. To enforce its
speeding ordinances, the City of Ottumwa uses an unmanned ATE
vehicle provided by RedSpeed, a third-party contractor. After
the ATE vehicle detects and photographs a speeding vehicle
including its license plate number, RedSpeed documents the
violation, accesses the National Law Enforcement
Telecommunications System (NLETS) database to obtain the name
of the registered owner of the vehicle, and uploads that
information to an Internet portal. This enables a City police
officer to review the materials and approve or reject the
issuance of a citation. The reviewing officer also verifies
the vehicle owner information. If the officer approves the
issuance of a citation, RedSpeed relies on the registered
owner's information obtained from NLETS to mail the owner
a citation, including the photographs of the violation and
information on the vehicle's speed.
noted, the City's ATE enforcement program is supported by
use of the NLETS database. The NLETS database is a
clearinghouse used nationally by law enforcement agencies. It
contains motor vehicle, registration, and driver information
submitted by state departments of motor vehicles.
night of May 24, 2016, an ATE camera detected an off-duty
patrol car going forty-one miles per hour in a twenty-five
miles-per-hour zone. It was later determined that the driver
was Mark Milligan, a police sergeant who worked for the City.
After discovering that Milligan was the driver, the City
forwarded the citation to him, although the City was of
course the registered owner of the vehicle and the citation
was actually issued to "Ottumwa PD."
August 1, Milligan-acting as a private citizen-submitted a
written public records request to the City under Iowa Code
chapter 22. He sought various records relating to the
City's ATE program. Among other things, he requested the
The names of violators issued citations from the Ottumwa
Police Department once the violation is reported by Red Speed
to the City of Ottumwa[, ] Iowa.
The names of violators not issued citations after
being reported as violations by Ottumwa Police
Department. Milligan later testified that he asked for
this information "to see that the City of Ottumwa was
enforcing their automated speed car enforcement fairly across
the board between all citizens."
advice of counsel, the City refused to release either set of
requested names. The reason it gave for the denial was that
"[i]nformation obtained by Red Speed is accessed through
the NLETS portal and is confidential information under state
and federal law." The City did, however, provide the
other requested items.
September 12, Milligan filed in the Wapello County District
Court a petition in equity and request for an order of
mandamus pursuant to Iowa Code sections 22.5 and 22.10. He
asserted that the City and its police department violated
chapter 22 by withholding the information without "any
lawful basis." He asked the court to order the City to
provide the withheld information and reimburse his costs and
February 9, 2017, the City filed a motion for summary
judgment. It asserted it was entitled to judgment as a matter
of law because Milligan's "requests seek
confidential information that is prohibited from being
disclosed under federal and state law"-meaning, the
disclosure is prohibited by the DPPA, 18 U.S.C. §§
2721 and 2725, and Iowa Code sections 22.7(66) and 321.11.
The City also asked for summary judgment because Milligan had
not provided any reasons for requesting the
"confidential names of persons cited or not cited by the
a hearing, the district court denied the City's motion.
Later, the district court also denied a revised version of
the City's motion for summary judgment.
November 2, the case was tried to the court. On November 28,
the court issued its ruling. Implicitly, the court's
ruling recognized that the DPPA and Iowa Code section 321.11
limit disclosure of documents that would otherwise have to be
produced under the Open Records Act. However, the court
reasoned that both the DPPA and Iowa Code section 321.11
"exempt information on driving violations from their
general prohibition on personal information disclosure."
It continued that "[t]he name[s] of speed regulation
violators, which w[ere] requested, [are] information on
driving violations, and [are] therefore, not confidential
information under the DPPA or Iowa Code § 321.11."
Accordingly, the court concluded the City had failed to
comply with chapter 22 and ordered the City to provide
Milligan the requested information. The court also announced
it would award attorney fees and invited a fee application.
On December 5, the City filed a timely notice of appeal from
the district court's November 28 order and ruling.
days later, on December 7, Milligan submitted an application
for attorney fees and nontaxable expenses. See Iowa
Code § 22.10(3)(c). The City resisted the
application, challenging both the hours billed and the hourly
rates. On February 22, 2018, the court granted Milligan's
application in full, awarding $57, 315.75 in attorney fees
and expenses. The City timely appealed this order as well. We
consolidated the appeals and retained them.
Standard of Review.
review the district court's interpretations of the DPPA,
chapter 22 of the Iowa Code, and Iowa Code section 321.11 for
correction of errors at law. Iowa Film Prod. Servs. v.
Iowa Dep't of Econ. Dev., 818 N.W.2d 207, 217 (Iowa
2012); Press-Citizen Co. v. Univ. of Iowa, 817
N.W.2d 480, 484 (Iowa 2012).
review fact findings in chapter 22 actions, which are triable
in equity, de novo. ACLU Found. of Iowa, Inc. v. Records
Custodian, Atlantic Cmty. Sch. Dist., 818 N.W.2d 231,
232 (Iowa 2012); Press-Citizen Co., 817 N.W.2d at
484; Gannon v. Bd. of Regents, 692 N.W.2d 31, 37
review the amount of an award of attorney fees and costs for
an abuse of discretion. City of Riverdale v.
Diercks, 806 N.W.2d 643, 652 (Iowa 2011).
Did the District Court Err in Ordering the City to Produce
the Names of Individual Vehicle Owners Requested by
determine whether the DPPA and its Iowa counterpart, Iowa
Code section 321.11, prohibit the City from releasing the
names of individuals who were and were not cited for ATE
speeding violations. To resolve this issue, we need to review
closely the exceptions found in the DPPA and section 321.11.
The Iowa Open Records Act.
outset, we acknowledge that the Open Records Act embodies
"a liberal policy in favor of access to public
records." Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids, 926
N.W.2d 222, 229 (Iowa 2019) (quoting Hall v. Broadlawns
Med. Ctr., 811 N.W.2d 478, 485 (Iowa 2012)). The Act
provides, "Every person shall have the right to examine
and copy a public record and to publish or otherwise
disseminate a public record or the information contained in a
public record." Iowa Code § 22.2(1). Also,
"[a] government body shall not prevent the examination
or copying of a public record by contracting with a
nongovernment body to perform any of its duties of
functions." Id. § 22.2(2). Although the
2017 version of the Act contained sixty-eight enumerated
exemptions from the disclosure requests, see Iowa
Code § 22.7, they "are to be construed
narrowly." Mitchell, 926 N.W.2d at 229 (quoting
Iowa Film Prod. Servs., 818 N.W.2d at 219).
this case does not concern one of those exemptions. Instead,
our focus is on a federal statute and a state statute that
independently prohibit the disclosure of certain government
records under certain circumstances. The Federal DPPA, if it
applies, would preempt any state law to the contrary, such as
the Open Records Act. See Collier v. Dickinson, 477
F.3d 1306, 1312 & n.3 (11th Cir. 2007) (rejecting a
qualified immunity defense because "[t]he law was clear
at the relevant time that the DPPA preempted any conflicting
state law that regulates the dissemination of motor vehicle
record information"). In addition, specific state law
prohibitions on disclosure located outside of chapter 22,
such as Iowa Code section 321.11, can overcome the disclosure
provisions in the Open Records Act. See Burton v. Univ.
of Iowa Hosps. & Clinics, 566 N.W.2d 182, 189 (Iowa
1997) ("[C]hapter 22 does not trump or supersede
specific statutes like sections 135.40-.42 on confidentiality
The Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994.
DPPA "regulates the disclosure and resale of personal
information contained in the records of state motor vehicle
departments (DMVs)." Reno v. Condon, 528 U.S.
141, 143, 120 S.Ct. 666, 668 (2000); see also
Locate.Plus.Com, Inc. v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 650
N.W.2d 609, 614 (Iowa 2002) ("Congress also sought to
curb the common practice by many states of selling
information in motor vehicle records to businesses,
marketers, and individuals."). The genesis of the DPPA
was the 1989 murder of a television actor at her home.
Locate.Plus.Com, 650 N.W.2d at 614 n.2; Maureen
Maginnis, Note, Maintaining the Privacy of Personal
Information: The DPPA and the Right of Privacy, 51 S.C.
L. Rev. 807, 809 (2000) [hereinafter Maginnis]. The actor was
killed by a stalker who had hired a private detective to
obtain her unlisted apartment address from the California
Department of Motor Vehicles. Locate.Plus.Com, 650
N.W.2d at 614 n.2; Maginnis, 51 S.C. L. Rev. at 809; William
J. Watkins, Jr., Note, The Driver's Privacy
Protection Act: Congress Makes a Wrong Turn, 49 S.C. L.
Rev. 983, 984 (1998) [hereinafter Watkins]. Congress enacted
the DPPA, first, to address public safety concerns regarding
stalkers', domestic abusers', and other
criminals' easy access to the personal information in
state department of transportation records. See,
e.g., Locate.Plus.C ...