The Motel 6 Lawsuit: Just Because the Government Asks Doesn’t Make it ok
April 16th, 2019
In small business law news, Motel 6 of Washington learned a hard lesson recently: When the Federal Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement (ICE) asks, don’t tell. At least, not without a warrant. The Motel 6 lawsuit is a valuable lesson for small business owners who might think they are doing the right thing by assisting the government.
No Warrant Obtained
The Washington Attorney General, the office charged with protecting it’s state citizen’s rights, sued Motel 6 for violating these people’s privacy rights by giving out sensitive private information without a warrant. Apparently, between 2015 and 2017, several of the Washington State Motel 6 locations were turning over their customer’s private information to ICE on a daily basis. ICE used this information to investigate, detain and even deport some of the Motel 6 customers.
Motel 6 Settlement
Motel 6 maintained that the practice of providing guest information to ICE was initiated on a local level without national chain knowledge or consent. However, On April 4th, 2019, the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that a 12 million dollar settlement had been reached with Motel 6. The end result of the lawsuit is that Motel 6 agreed to discontinue the practice of providing customer’s information to ICE without a warrant. The also agreed to pay 12 Million to the attorney general which will be used at least in part by the State to compensate victims. Victims can visit the Washington AG website to file claims.
State vs Federal Government
An agent of the state or federal government may use trickery to obtain information during an investigation or even a confession in criminal matters–even if that means requesting information they know they have no right to. However, just because the person asking for the information is a federal agent, doesn’t mean that they are entitled to it. Even federal agents must comply with Constitutional rights and requirements when called on the carpet.
As a general rule, small business owners who collect sensitive data need to keep in mind that if they could be held liable for disclosing private customer information to a private citizen, they can also be held liable for disclosing that same information to a government authority if said authority has failed to go through the proper channels. Moreover, even though it may be the federal government asking for the information, the state government will likely seek to hold the business owner accountable for the release of the information.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.