Public Disclosure of Private Facts


The courts recognize four categories of invasion of privacy:[i]:

  • intrusion upon one’s physical solitude or seclusion;
  • public disclosure of private facts;
  • false light in the public eye; and
  • appropriation.

 

To establish a cause of action for invasion of privacy on the ground of public disclosure of private facts, the courts consider three elements[ii].

  • the disclosure of private facts must be a public disclosure.
  • the facts disclosed must be private facts, and not public ones.
  • the matter made public must be one which would be offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities.

 

Liability under false light invasion of privacy requires public disclosure of some falsity or fiction concerning a plaintiff and the cause of action for public disclosure of embarrassing private facts provides for tort liability involving a judgment for damages for publicity given to true statements of fact[iii].

In an action for invasion of privacy based on the alleged wrongful disclosure of private facts, the plaintiff must show that the disclosure complained of was actually public in nature.  There is no liability when a defendant merely gives further publicity to information about a plaintiff that is already public.

For a fact to be private, plaintiffs must demonstrate that they actually expected a disclosed fact to remain private, and that society would recognize this expectation of privacy as reasonable and be willing to respect it[iv].

Public disclosure of private facts occurs when a person gives publicity to a matter that concerns the private life of another, a matter that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and that is not of legitimate public concern.  A communication to a single person or to a small group of persons is not actionable since the publicity element requires communication to the public at large or to so many persons that the matter is substantially certain to become one of public knowledge[v].

With respect to the freedoms of speech and the press, there is a significant public interest in reporting the commission of crime, resulting prosecutions, and judicial proceedings arising from those prosecutions.  The courts recognize the special protected nature of accurate reports of judicial proceedings.

Similarly, if there are privacy interests to be protected in judicial proceedings, the courts direct the states to respond by means that avoid public documentation or other exposure of private information.

[i] Forsher v. Bugliosi, 26 Cal. 3d 792 (Cal. 1980).

[ii] Zieve v. Hairston, 266 Ga. App. 753 (Ga. Ct. App. 2004).

[iii] Uranga v. Federated Publs., Inc., 138 Idaho 550 (Idaho 2003).

[iv] Hatch v. Town of Middletown, 311 F.3d 83 (1st Cir. R.I. 2002).

[v] Munsell v. Hambright, 776 N.E.2d 1272 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).