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6th Circuit Flushes 'Joe the Plumber' Lawsuit Over Data Searches

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on March 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It seems "Joe the Plumber's" lawsuit against state employees in Ohio is heading down the drain.

"Joe the Plumber," whose real name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, gained national attention when he confronted then-candidate Barack Obama about taxes in 2008. After video of the confrontation went viral, three Obama supporters who worked for the state of Ohio delved into state databases seeking information about Wurzelbacher, the Associated Press reports.

Those searches violated Wurzelbacher's First Amendment and privacy rights, Joe the Plumber's lawsuit claimed. But three judges on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals flushed those claims down the toilet.

Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher was not harmed by the "fruitless database searches" and failed to show "a sufficient adverse action," the three-judge panel held, according to the AP.

"Wurzelbacher was not deterred or chilled in the exercise of his First Amendment rights as a result of defendants' wrongful conduct," one of the judges -- appointed by Republican President George W. Bush -- wrote in rejecting Joe the Plumber's lawsuit.

Judges also rejected Wurzelbacher's privacy claim, The Wall Street Journal reports. "He does not allege that he was subjected to a risk of bodily injury or that intimate information was disclosed to the public," the court held.

Wurzelbacher, who is now running for Congress as a Republican, disagreed with the 6th Circuit's ruling. "Now any citizen who stands up and challenges candidates and elected officials is subject to intimidation by the same government that is supposed to protect our individual rights," Wurzelbacher said in a statement.

Judicial Watch, the Washington, D.C.-based group that argued the case on Wurzelbacher's behalf, said it's considering an appeal.

As for the database search that led to Joe the Plumber's lawsuit, two state officials resigned and a third was forced out of office, the AP reports.

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