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Trespass is a strict liability tort, both exceptionally simple and exceptionally rigorous. Under Pennsylvania law, it is defined as an unprivileged, intentional intrusion upon land in possession of another. One who intentionally enters land in the possession of another is subject to liability to the possessor for a trespass, although his presence on the land causes no harm to the land, its possessor, or to any thing or person in whose security the possessor has a legally protected interest. A complaint alleging that defendants entered into plaintiffs' home on specified dates is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss under Pennsylvania trespass law.
Google, Inc. provided free internet access to panoramic views of public streets in major cities. It obtained the views by sending cars equipped with digital cameras to drive around cities taking photographs. Plaintiffs Aaron Boring and Christine Boring, who lived on a private road in Pittsburgh, discovered that Google had taken colored imagery of their residence, including the swimming pool, from a vehicle in their residence driveway months earlier without obtaining any privacy waiver or authorization. Consequently, plaintiffs commenced an action in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania against Google, asserting claims for invasion of privacy, trespass, injunctive relief, negligence, and conversion. The Borings sought compensatory, incidental, and consequential damages in excess of $25,000 for each claim, plus punitive damages and attorney's fees. The District Court granted Google's motion to dismiss as to all of the plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs appealed.
Did the district court err in granting Google’s motion to dismiss all of plaintiffs’ claims?
On appeal, the court agreed that the plaintiff landowners failed to state a claim for intrusion upon seclusion or publicity of private facts under Pennsylvania law. According to the court, no reasonable person would have found the company's conduct or the photographs to be highly offensive. The court further averred that the plaintiffs failed to state an unjust enrichment claim because they did not allege any benefit conferred on the company, and they did not sufficiently plead a basis for punitive damages because they did not allege the company acted maliciously or even intentionally in sending the driver onto their property. However, the court held that the trespass claim should not have been dismissed for failure to plead damages. The plaintiffs’ allegations that the company entered their land without permission was sufficient to state a trespass claim. The court noted that under Pennsylvania law, one who intentionally entered land in the possession of another was subject to liability to the possessor for a trespass, although his presence on the land caused no harm to the land, its possessor, or to any thing or person in whose security the possessor has a legally protected interest.