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Koeppel v. Speirs - 808 N.W.2d 177 (Iowa 2011)

Rule:

It would be inconsistent with the policy of the tort to find an intrusion when the privacy of plaintiff could not have been exposed in any way. Thus, a belief by plaintiff that a person invaded his or her privacy by placing an apparent recording device in a private area does not establish an intrusion if the device was not capable of being configured or operated to transmit or record in any conceivable way. Accordingly, proof the equipment is functional is an ingredient in the inquiry. Indeed, the very purpose of the tort is to protect the opening up of a private place where plaintiff seeks seclusion. If the fact finder finds from the evidence that the device could not have intruded into the privacy of the plaintiff in any manner, the tort of invasion of privacy has not been committed. However, if the fact finder finds from the evidence that the device could have intruded into the privacy of the plaintiff, the element of intrusion is satisfied.

Facts:

Defendant employer appealed a decision of the Iowa Court of Appeals that reversed a trial court's granting of summary judgment in his favor in plaintiff employee's invasion of privacy action. The employee filed an invasion of privacy claim against her employer after discovering a video camera in the unisex bathroom in a three-person office. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, ruling that, although the employer intended to view his female employees in the bathroom, the tort of invasion of privacy required proof that the equipment worked and that the employer had viewed his employees. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that evidence indicating that the camera was operational was sufficient to survive summary judgment on the issue of invasion of privacy. 

Issue:

Did the surveillance equipment that was secretly installed in a bathroom support a claim for invasion of privacy when the equipment could not be operated after it was discovered to produce identifiable images?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On review, the Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that the district court erred in granting the employer's summary judgment motion because there was evidence that the camera was capable of operation and evidence that it operated in the past from a different location in the office. That evidence would lead a reasonable person to believe that his or her privacy had been invaded. An electronic invasion occurred under the intrusion on solitude component of the tort of invasion of privacy when plaintiff established by a preponderance of the evidence that the electronic device used could have invaded privacy in some way.

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