Law School Case Brief
Fla. Pub. Co. v. Fletcher - 340 So. 2d 914 (Fla. 1976)
Consent is an absolute defense to an action for trespass and the defense of custom and usage is but another way of expressing consent by implication; that is, consent may be implied from custom, usage or conduct.
Plaintiff Klenna Ann Fletcher left Florida for New York on Sept. 15, 1972, to visit a friend. She left her three young daughters, including 17-year-old Cindy, in Florida. On that afternoon, while Cindy was alone in the house, a fire of undetermined origin damaged the home; Cindy died in the fire. The fire and police departments were called by a neighbor who discovered the fire, but too late to save the child. A large group of firemen, news media representatives, and onlookers gathered at the scene and on Mrs. Fletcher's property. When the fire marshal and Police Sergeant Short entered the house to make their official investigation, they invited the news media to accompany them, which, they claimed in depositions, was their standard practice. Mrs. Fletcher filed a complaint in Florida state court against defendant Florida Publishing Company over its employees' entry into her home, alleging: (1) trespass and invasion of privacy; (2) invasion of privacy, and; (3) wrong intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court dismissed Count 2 and granted Florida Publishing's motion for summary judgment on Counts 1 and 3. On appeal, the appellate court reversed as to Count 1, ruling that the evidence was insufficient to warrant summary judgment on that claim. The Supreme Court of Florida granted Florida Publishing's petition for review.
Was the entry of media into Mrs. Fletcher's home after the fire lawful?
The state supreme court quashed that pat of the the appellate court's decision that reversed summary judgment for Florida Publishing as to Count 1 and remanded the cause for further proceedings. The court held that summary judgment was proper because there was no genuine issue of material fact insofar as the entry into Mrs. Fletcher's home was lawful and non-actionable pursuant to the doctrine of common custom, usage, and practice. It was common usage, custom and practice for news media to enter private premises and homes under the circumstances such as the fire that occurred at Mrs. Fletcher's home.
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