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Koeppel v. Speirs

Supreme Court of Iowa

December 23, 2011, Filed

No. 08-1927

Opinion

 [*178]  CADY, Chief Justice.

In this appeal, we must decide whether surveillance equipment secretly installed in a bathroom can support a claim for invasion of privacy when the equipment could not be operated after it was discovered to produce identifiable images. The district court determined evidence of an actual, rather than attempted, intrusion was required and granted summary judgment for the defendant after concluding the evidence was insufficient to sustain the plaintiff's claim. The court of appeals reversed, finding the evidence of intrusion was sufficient to survive summary  [**2] judgment. On our review, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals, reverse the decision of the district court, and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Robert Speirs was an insurance agent for an insurance company. He operated his business from an office building in Waterloo. He employed Sara Koeppel and Deanna Miller to assist him in his business.

The office included a reception area occupied by Koeppel and Miller, an office occupied by Speirs, and a small unisex bathroom. The bathroom contained a sink, toilet, and black floor shelf. The shelf had a hollow rectangular base and was positioned between the sink and the toilet.

In October 2005, Speirs noticed Miller's work performance had deteriorated. He began to suspect she was engaged in conduct detrimental to the operation of his office. In response, Speirs decided to monitor Miller's activities at work using a hidden camera.

On November 26, 2005, Speirs purchased a security camera, monitor, videocassette recorder (VCR), and video tape. The camera was powered by a nine-volt battery and functioned independently of the receiver and monitor. When the camera was switched on, it would send radio wave signals  [**3] to the receiver corresponding to the images captured by the camera. The receiver, in turn, sent the images to the monitor for viewing. The receiver, monitor, and VCR were located in Speirs' office. The battery only had a lifespan of a few hours.

Speirs claimed that, on December 10, he installed the camera in the reception area of the office to monitor Miller's work station. As a result, he was able to observe the reception area from the monitor in his office. He had no difficulty observing Miller when the equipment was in operation. However, he did not observe any misconduct by Miller and removed the camera from the reception area after approximately ten days. He claimed he was never able to record the camera images with the VCR.

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808 N.W.2d 177 *; 2011 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 106 **; 33 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 389

SARA KOEPPEL, Appellant, vs. ROBERT SPEIRS, Appellee.

Prior History:  [**1] On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Richard D. Stochl, Judge. Robert Speirs seeks further review of court of appeals decision reversing district court judgment granting summary judgment against plaintiffs on invasion-of-privacy claim.

Koeppel v. Speirs, 779 N.W.2d 494, 2010 Iowa App. LEXIS 342 (Iowa Ct. App., 2010)

Disposition: DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS AFFIRMED; DISTRICT COURT JUDGMENT REVERSED AND REMANDED.

CORE TERMS

intrusion, camera, privacy, bathroom, invasion of privacy, monitor, installation, summary judgment, seclusion, listened, private place, intrude, viewing, reasonable person, recording device, invasion, receiver, courts, hidden, district court, recording, images, fact finder, invasion-of-privacy, conversation, electronic, appeals, battery, exposed, invaded

Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Appeals, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Torts, Invasion of Privacy, Intrusions, General Overview, Elements, False Light, Appropriation, Public Disclosure of Private Facts