The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Right to Privacy


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Right to Privacy

"The right to be left alone", U.S. Supreme Court Louis Brandeis noted more than 100 years ago, is a basic human right, and the ACLU has vigorously fought for that right, as the cases below demonstrate:

2015: J.A. v. Town of Tiverton

Category: Due Process  Privacy  Students' Rights  

About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against Tiverton police and school officials over an incident in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, had her belongings searched, was taken alone to the police station without her parents’ knowledge, and then held and questioned at the police station for several hours before being released. The seizure, detention, and interrogation of the young child were based solely on unsubstantiated claims from another child that the girl was carrying “chemicals” in her backpack, and occurred even after the police found nothing suspicious in the backpack.

Current Status:
Lawsuit successfully settled in June 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Amato A. DeLuca, Miriam Weizenbaum

Learn more about this case >

2015: Davis v. Division of Motor Vehicles

Category: Due Process  Privacy  

2/6/2015 Update: In response to a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the Division of Motor Vehicles agreed to the entry of a court order Friday that will require the agency to first adopt regulations through a public process before using a new database designed to identify and possibly take action against uninsured drivers.


This lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Albin Moser, asks the court to stop the implementation of the Uninsured Motorists Identification Database until the Division of Motor Vehicles adopts appropriate regulations with public input. The DMV is establishing the database, designed to identify uninsured motorists, without first establishing any regulations to prevent the improper disclosure of drivers’ personal information, avoid mistaken registration revocations, or to otherwise ensure that the program is properly administered by the private out-of-state company contracted to run the program. The failure to establish these regulations is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and the state law that established the database.

The ACLU’s concerns about implementing the program without any public standards are not without justification, as it has sued the DMV a number of times in the past over regulatory lapses that have adversely affected motorists. In 2012, for example, the ACLU successfully sued the DMV after it refused to reinstate a person’s driver’s license based on a “policy” that appeared nowhere in the agency’s rules and regulations. In 2010, the ACLU successfully settled another case after the DMV advised thousands of motorists that their license and registration would be suspended due to alleged unpaid fines that were the result of incidents occurring on “00/00/0000.”

Learn more about this case >

2010: Lopera v. Town of Coventry

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  Students' Rights  

“Friend of the court” brief challenging the constitutionality of a police search conducted on student athletes leaving a soccer match, based solely on the coach’s consent.

2010: Ramos v. City of Pawtucket

Category: Privacy  Workplace Rights  

Favorably settled lawsuit against city officials for violating a state law that prohibits random drug testing in the workplace.

2010: R.I. ACLU v. Gifford

Category: Privacy  

A 2010 lawsuit challenging the adequacy of privacy and confidentiality protections in regulations the Department of Health has adopted to implement a centralized database of patient health care records in the state known as the Health Information Exchange (HIE), which allows medical personnel to routinely access a patient’s entire medical file, including mental health records and other sensitive medical information. 

In a step foward for patients' privacy rights, the R.I. ACLU settled this suit in April 2014. As part of the settlement agreement, the Department of Health agreed it would halt its practice of “adopting unofficially promulgated policies to implement” its obligations under the HIE law. In their place, the department unveiled significantly revised regulations that specify how patients can, among other things, revoke their participation in the HIE, limit healthcare providers’ access to their HIE information, and correct errors in their medical records. The proposed revisions to the regulations were the subject of a public hearing last week. Patients remain free not to have their medical information submitted to the HIE.

Cooperating Attorney: Frederic Marzilli

Learn more about this case >

2009: R.I. ACLU v. CVS Caremark Corporation

Category: Privacy  

This successful administrative complaint challenged a company’s on-line job application form that asked numerous intrusive personal questions.

2009: Simone v. Town of Johnston

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  

Favorably-settled federal lawsuit challenging a police department’s illegal disclosure of a resident’s private driver’s license information to a town council member for political purposes.

2009: Alves v. Cintas Corporation No. 2

Category: Privacy  

Lawsuit on behalf of numerous employees of a private company who, in the absence of any cause, were ordered to submit to drug testing in violation of state law. Discovery is proceeding, and a handful of plaintiffs have agreed in the interim to monetary settlements.

Cooperating Attorneys: Carolyn Mannis, Robert Senville, Andrew Berg

2008: Becker v. State of Rhode Island

Category: Due Process  Privacy  

Lawsuit challenging a Division of Motor Vehicles policy requiring people to present their Social Security card in order to renew their drivers’ license. The Division agreed to rescind the policy and pay court costs.

Cooperating Attorney: James Kelleher

Learn more about this case >

2007: In re: Complaint Against Verizon and AT&T

Category: Privacy  

This administrative complaint sought an investigation as to whether telephone companies improperly shared customer information with the National Security Agency.

2006: In re: Todd McElroy

Category: Privacy  Rights of Ex-Offenders  

Friend of the court” brief addressing whether the civil commitment hearing of a convicted sex offender should be public. The brief, citing the quasi-criminal nature of the detention and the state’s questionable use of the mental health statute in this instance, argued that the proceedings should be open at least in part, but that the defendant’s confidential healthcare information deserved privacy protection in the proceedings. The court ruled that the proceedings would be closed.

Cooperating Attorney: Katherine Powell

Learn more about this case >

2001: Reitsma v. Vinagro

Category: Privacy  

Challenge to an injunction sought by the DEM to search a defendant’s property at any time without a warrant; favorable court decision issued.

1999: Theberge v. Rocco

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging police officers’ warrantless entry into, and search of, a house in order to arrest a person seen to have engaged in underage drinking.

1998: Liu v. Striuli

Category: Privacy  

“Friend of the court” brief filed in this sexual harassment case, successfully opposing a ruling that the defendant waived any doctor-patient privilege in his psychiatric records by discussing his treatment with the plaintiff.

1994: Ducharme v. State of Rhode Island, Division of State Police

Category: Police Practices  Privacy  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging the strip search of a person arrested for “disorderly conduct.”

1993: Vote Choice v. DiStefano

Category: Privacy  Voting Rights  

Federal lawsuit successfully challenging a state law requiring that the names of people making small donations to controversial PAC’s be made public.

1991: Tucker v. Glocester Police Department

Category: Church and State  Privacy  Religious Freedom  

Favorably settled complaint challenging the use on police applicants of a standardized psychological test which asked questions relating to religious beliefs.

1989: Pimental v. Department of Transportation

Category: Privacy  

“Friend of the court” brief in the state Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of drunk driving roadblocks; the court ruled them unconstitutional.

1989: Virella v. Scott

Category: Discrimination  Gender Discrimination  Privacy  

Favorably settled federal lawsuit challenging Health Department policy denying married but separated women the right to give their children the surname of their choice.

1988: Parillo v. Parillo

Category: Privacy  

R.I. Supreme Court appeal filed on behalf of a mother barred by Family Court from allowing her boyfriend to stay overnight when her children were present.

1987: Field v. Field

Category: Discrimination  LGBT Rights  Privacy  

“Friend of the court” brief filed in state Supreme Court against Family Court custody restrictions on a mother solely because of her sexual orientation; the case was settled.

1986: Deleiris v. Scott

Category: Privacy  

Successful federal challenge to Health Department policy denying birth certificates to parents who refused to provide personal information on a hospital birth worksheet.

1984: Planned Parenthood v. Board of Medical Review

Category: Discrimination  Gender Discrimination  Privacy  Women's Rights  

Successful challenge to state law requiring husbands to be notified before a woman could have an abortion.

1983: Harris v. Moran

Category: Privacy  

Favorably settled federal court suit challenging prison strip-searching of female visitors on the basis of unsubstantiated tips.

1980: Santos v. Brown

Category: Discrimination  LGBT Rights  Privacy  

Representation of person convicted of violating state sodomy law prohibiting “the abominable and detestable crime against nature”; the conviction was reversed on other grounds.

1977: Michaelson v. New England Telephone Company

Category: Privacy  

Successful intervention in opposition to a suit brought by the Attorney General to force the phone company to give assistance in court-ordered wiretaps.