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To state a claim for violation of the constitutional right of privacy, a party must establish (1) a legally protected privacy interest; (2) a reasonable expectation of privacy under the circumstances; and (3) a serious invasion of the privacy interest. Four distinct kinds of activities have been found to violate this privacy protection and give rise to tort liability. These activities are: (1) intrusion into private matters; (2) public disclosure of private facts; (3) publicity placing a person in a false light; and (4) misappropriation of a person's name or likeness. Each of these four categories identifies a distinct interest associated with an individual's control of the process or products of his or her personal life. However, to prevail on an invasion of privacy claim, the plaintiff must have conducted himself or herself in a manner consistent with an actual expectation of privacy.
Plaintiff wrote an article entitled “An Ode to Coalinga” and posted it on it in her online journal on MySpace.com. The article opened with “the older I get, the more I realize how much I despise Coalinga” and then proceeded to make a number of extremely negative comments about the city and its inhabitants. The day after plaintiff removed the article from her online journal, she learned that a high school principal had submitted the article to the newspaper by giving it to the editor of the newspaper. Plaintiff, along with her family, sued the principal and the newspaper, alleging causes of action for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court sustained defendants' demurrer to plaintiff's complaint without leave to amend. The author appealed, contending that the republication constituted a public disclosure of private facts that were not of legitimate public concern and thus was an invasion of privacy.
Was the republication an invasion of privacy because it constituted a public disclosure of private facts that were not of legitimate public concern?
The court concluded that defendants' demurrer to the invasion of privacy cause of action was properly sustained without leave to amend. The facts contained in the article were not private. The author publicized her opinions about Coalinga by posting the article online. By so doing, she made her article available to anyone with Internet access. No reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material. That the author removed the article from her online journal was of no consequence. The publication was not so obscure or transient that it was not accessed by others. The only place that the principal could have obtained a copy of the article was from the Internet, either directly or indirectly.