Law School Case Brief
Ehling v. Monmouth-Ocean Hosp. Serv. Corp. - 872 F. Supp. 2d 369 (D.N.J. 2012)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated.
Plaintiff Deborah Ehling was a registered nurse and paramedic hired by defendant Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corporation (MONOC). Defendant Vincent Robbins is the President and CEO of MONOC. Defendant Stacy Quagliana is the Executive Director of Administration at MONOC. Subsequently, Ehling took over as the Acting President of the local union for Professional Emergency Medical Services Association – New Jersey (Union). As President, Ehling was very proactive in attempting to protect the rights and safety of her union members and filed numerous complaints and charges against MONOC to that end. Ehling alleged that, as soon as she became President of the Union, defendants began engaging in a pattern of retaliatory conduct against her, eventually culminating in her termination in July 2011. According to the Plaintiff, defendants managed to gain access to her Facebook wall, and copied one of Plaintiff’s Facebook postings regarding a shooting incident that took place at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Defendants then sent letters regarding Ehling’s Facebook posting to the New Jersey Board of Nursing and the New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Emergency Medical Services. The letters stated that MONOC was concerned that Ehling’s Facebook posting showed a disregard for patient safety. Plaintiff Ehling alleged that these letters were sent in a “malicious” attempt to attach Plaintiff, damage her reputation and employment opportunities, and potentially risk losing her nursing license and paramedic certification status. Plaintiff then filed a complaint against defendants alleging a violation of the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act; and common law invasion of privacy. The defendants moved to dismiss.
Should defendants’ motion to dismiss be granted?
Yes, as to the allegation of violation of the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act. No, as to the common law invasion of privacy.
The federal district court held that plaintiff’s allegation that defendants violation the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act should be dismissed. According to the Court, the NJ Wiretap Act only “protects those electronic communications, which are in the course of transmission or are backup to that course of transmission.” The Court concluded that the Amended Complaint did not allege that Plaintiff’s Facebook posting was in the course of transmission when Defendants viewed it. To the contrary, the posting was in post-transmission storage when Defendants accessed it; hence, that communication did not fall under the purview of the NJ Wiretap Act. Anent the allegation of common law invasion of privacy, the Court held that defendants’ motion to dismiss that claim should be denied. Under New Jersey law, to state a claim for intrusion upon one's seclusion or private affairs, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to demonstrate that her solitude, seclusion, or private affairs were intentionally infringed upon, and that this infringement would highly offend a reasonable person. Ehling sufficiently argued that she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in her Facebook posting because her comment was disclosed only to a limited number of people to whom she had individually invited to view a restricted access webpage. As such, the Court held that plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for invasion of privacy.
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