I am a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma. I was just contacted by the university's bursars office regarding a remaining balance on my bursar account. I responded with a plan of action to get it paid off. Shortly after this correspondence, I received the same original email about my bursar account forwarded to me from my biological mother, Mrs. Karen Chambers. Mrs. Chambers is not, and has never been authorized to view any of my educational records, including my bursar records. Should I pursue this case legally?
2 Answers from Attorneys
This problem is covered by FERPA and possibly whatever the right of privacy laws are in OK. If the U of OK had been informed that Mrs. Chambers was not your "mother" or authorized to access your student records, including finances, then they are at fault, and it is a FERPA violation. FERPA is not actionable by you as an individual. (A massive flaw in the legislation.) You can complain to the Dept of Education (which you should do). The DOE tends to do nothing, and sanctions against U.S. universities are rare; hence, they are worthless. If Mrs. Chambers initiated this intrusion into your personal matters, then you have a tort action against you. The question becomes one of how much damage was done. Venue for the action would be in OK in state court if both of you reside there. If you are in California, then--if the value of the harm reaches the threshold amount--venue can be through a U.S. district court, maybe in California, but, if all of the defendants are in OK, in that state. You can also get an injunction against her (and the University) to stop this nonsense.
FERPA like HIPPA lacks a private right of action. Even if you could find a violation you could legally pursue, however, what are your damages? The law can only provide orders that someone do or stop doing something, or monetary compensation for harm that can be measured in money. You don't seem to have any monetary harm. If you think you need an injunction and have the money to spend on it, sure, sue for one, in OK.