What happens when there is a release of a group of individual's information under the Privacy Act, but the individual's submitting evidence to the Court about their damages show only an emotional harm from the release? Well, the result in Rice et al. v. USA is that the named plaintiff's will have their claims dismissed.
Judge James Robertson of the District Court for the District of Columbia has dismissed the claims of the named plaintiffs in a class-action against the USDA for a release of their financial information pursuant to a FOIA request. In making his ruling, the Judge first found that even though these were business records of the plaintiffs, they were about them as individuals and therefore covered by the Privacy Act. However, the Court ultimately decided that the descriptions of the emotional harms suffered by certain of the plaintiffs in the case did not rise to the level of a harm that would allow recovery pursuant to Privacy Act Section 552a(g)(4). Thus, the named class members claims have been dismissed. The Court has left open the door for those not named to sue individually and provide evidence of harm that rises higher than that demonstrated by the class.
This case is a great example of how difficult it is to successfully file a wrongful disclosure in a Privacy Act suit. Even though the plaintiffs were anguished by the disclosure of their financial information, they could not point to a harm that rose to the level of the Privacy Act that permitted a recovery.