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You Auto Know! When the Police Come Knocking

in Automotive/Transportation, News


You are at the store going about your business when you are told that law enforcement is in the showroom and would like to speak with you.  You go to the showroom and retire to a private office where law enforcement asks you to provide information on a specific customer, however, they do not present you with any documentation.  What should you do?


Recently, I have received several telephone calls from various dealerships asking what to do in this specific situation.  Generally, the law enforcement officials are literally standing at the dealer or general managers’ desk when the phone call is made.  You want to cooperate but don’t know how to do so.  There are several steps that you should go through and questions you need to ask prior to providing any information.  Obviously, you don’t want to open yourself up to a lawsuit by a customer indicating that you breached their privacy under various federal and state laws.  Although the following is a basic outline of what you should do, it is not all encompassing and I would strongly suggest that you contact your corporate legal counsel for guidance in each and every situation. 


First, ask to see positive identification that the individuals who claim they are law enforcement are really law enforcement.  Recently in Texas, two bounty hunters came into a dealership representing they were law enforcement and provided some not very credible documentation and then proceeded to not only get themselves killed, but the customer whom they were seeking. 


Second, ask for a subpoena or a court order. Voluntarily providing information without the necessary subpoena or court orders can expose you to, as stated, violations of federal and state law. 


I always suggest telling law enforcement that you want to be a good corporate citizen and comply with their requests, however, your doggone corporate legal counsel won’t let you provide the documentation without an “order” or a subpoena.  I have never had an instance where law enforcement did not understand the situation that the business could be put in without the necessary subpoena or court order.  Generally, if it is an important matter, law enforcement officials will return with the proper documentation so you can provide the information. 


I generally state that it is a violation of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and that you cannot provide personal or confidential information without a subpoena or court order.  However, a colleague of mine recently stated that it could be a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights for unreasonable searches and seizures.  There is a federal case that was decided in 1971 by the name of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).  In this case, the United States Supreme Court stated that an individual subject to an unreasonable search or seizure has an implied cause of action against the parties who breached his or her Fourth Amendment rights.  The case involved the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. 


Again, state that you want to cooperate fully but need proof of identification and a subpoena or court order in order to comply with the request.


Robert A. Poklar, Esq.

Weston Hurd LLP

The Tower at Erieview

 1301 East 9th Street, Suite 1900
Cleveland, Ohio 44114-1862

p: 216.687.3243; f: 216.621.8369