Tag Archives: invasion of privacy

Court won’t ban Gawker from posting Hulk Hogan sex tape

Bollea v. Gawker Media, LLC, 2012 WL 5509624 (M.D.Fla. November 14, 2012)

A few years ago someone surreptitiously filmed Hulk Hogan cavorting in bed with a woman not his wife. Gawker got a copy through an anonymous source and posted a minute of excerpts on gawker.com. (I’m not linking to it but it’s easily accessible. Just be warned, it’s extremely NSFW.)

Hulk sued in federal court alleging various invasion of privacy claims. He sought a preliminary injunction against Gawker continuing to make the video available. The court denied the motion, finding such an injunction to be an unconstitutional prior restraint on Gawker’s free speech right.

Gawker conceded that Hulk had a right of privacy in the contents of the tape, but argued that Gawker’s First Amendment rights outweighed the privacy interest.

The court found that Hulk failed to satisfy his heavy burden to overcome the presumption that a preliminary injunction would be an unconstitutional prior restraint under the First Amendment. Hulk’s public persona, including the publicity he and his family derived from his reality show, his own book describing an affair he had during his marriage, prior reports by other parties of the existence and content of the tape, and Hulk’s own public discussion of issues relating to his marriage, sex life, and the tape all demonstrated, in the court’s view, that the tape was a subject of general interest and concern to the community.

And he failed to show that he would suffer irreparable harm from the publication. The court’s decision on this point was based in part on the fact that mere embarassment was not enough to satisfy the irreparable harm standard. Moreover, the court found this to be a case where the “cat is out of the bag,” so it was not apparent that a preliminary injunction would do anything to help.

Case against iPhone eavesdropper moves forward

Caro v. Weintraub, 2010 WL 4514273 (D. Conn. November 2, 2010)

Stepson who used iPhone to record conversation about dying mother’s will may be liable for invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress.

This past summer the case against a man accused of using his iPhone to surreptitiously record a family conversation about his dying mother’s will got some attention when the court dismissed the stepfather-widower’s claim for violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

But the dismissal of that case was not the end of the story. Plaintiff had filed a separate lawsuit, claiming, among other things, invasion of privacy (by intrusion upon seclusion) and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants (the allegedly eavesdropping iPhone user and his brother) moved to dismiss the invasion of privacy and emotional distress claims. The court denied the motion.

Plaintiff alleged that four days before his wife (defendants’ mother) died, defendants and some other family members came over to the house to discuss the mother’s will. Unbeknown to plaintiff, one of the defendant brothers allegedly used his iPhone to secretly record the conversation. In the subsequent litigation over the mother’s estate, the stepsons attempted to use an allegedly altered version of the recording as evidence.

The court found that the act of secretly recording the conversation could constitute invasion of privacy. Whether it actually happened the way plaintiff claimed will be decided later by a jury. But the judge found that a jury was entitled to make that determination. Plaintiff’s claims that defendants surreptitiously recorded an intimate conversation about a family member’s will qualified as an offensive intentional intrusion in private affairs that could be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

As for the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, the court found that defendants’ alleged conduct “exceed[ed] all bounds usually tolerated by decent society.” As with the invasion of privacy claim, the question of liability will go to a jury (unless the case settles, of course.)

Group sex photos case heads to trial

Peterson v. Moldofsky, No. 07-2603, 2009 WL 3126229 (D.Kan. September 29, 2009)

Defendant took pictures of his ex-girlfriend “engaged in various sex acts with two other people.” Later he emailed some of the photos to his ex-girlfriend’s mother, ex-husband, ex-in laws, boss and co-workers.

The ex-girlfriend sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. Defendant moved for summary judgment. The court denied the motion in large part.

Infliction of emotional distress

Defendant argued that the court should toss the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim because Plaintiff ex-girlfriend failed to show that Defendant’s conduct was sufficiently extreme and outrageous, and that the alleged distress exceeded what a reasonable person would experience in the circumstances.

The court rejected Defendant’s arguments. It found that an average citizen would think emailing photos of a person engaged in a manage a trois to one of the participants’ mother, among others, was outrageous. Moreover, Plaintiff’s distress was shown to be severe, as she had to get counseling. It sounds as if the court would have found it severe enough even without the counseling — Defendant’s conduct was “so shocking and outrageous as to give rise to an inference of severe emotional distress.”

Invasion of privacy

Plaintiff claimed two forms of invasion of privacy — intrusion upon seclusion and publication of private facts. The court held she had presented enough facts for the latter but not the former.

The court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to intrusion upon seclusion because no intrusion occurred. Plaintiff knew Defendant was there taking pictures of the activities. The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that publication of the no doubt intimate photos constituted intrusion. It held that the disclosure of properly obtained information could not give rise to the claim.

But as to the argument that emailing the photos unlawfully publicized private facts, the court sided with Plaintiff. Defendant had argued that emailing the photos to only a half dozen or so people did not amount to “publication,” which is one of the elements of the tort. He pointed to Comment “a” of the Restatement (Second) of Torts ยง652D which says that “it is not an invasion of the right of privacy to communicate a fact . . . to a single person, or even to a small group of people.”

In rejecting this argument, the court engaged in what some might characterize as “Internet exceptionalism,” — applying the law in response to a perceived substantial difference between online and offline communication. The court observed that “the Internet enables its users to ‘quickly and inexpensively’ surmount the barriers to generating publicity that were inherent in the traditional forms of communication.” Finding this distinction to be significant, the court held that distribution of the photos even to a small group of people through the private means of electronic mail could be considered a “publication” for purposes of the tort of invasion of privacy.

Threesome photo courtesy Flickr user curgoth under this Creative Commons license.