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Law School Case Brief

Sipple v. Chronicle Publ'g Co. - 154 Cal. App. 3d 1040, 201 Cal. Rptr. 665 (1984)

Rule:

There are three elements of a cause of action predicated on tortious invasion of privacy. First, the disclosure of the private facts must be a public disclosure. Second, the facts disclosed must be private facts, and not public ones. Third, the matter made public must be one which would be offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities. However, due to the supreme mandate of the constitutional protection of freedom of the press, even a tortious invasion of one's privacy is exempt from liability if the publication of private facts is truthful and newsworthy.

Facts:

Plaintiff Oliver Sipple helped to thwart an assassination attempt on the life of President Gerald Ford. Several newspapers published articles regarding the incident, with several of them disclosing plaintiff’s homosexual orientation. Consequently, plaintiff brought an action against the newspapers for invasion of privacy. The trial court granted the newspapers’ motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue:

Can the newspapers be held liable for disclosing plaintiff’s homosexual orientation?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court noted that the facts disclosed by the articles were not private facts, but were facts which plaintiff had left open to the eye of the public. Moreover, the court averred that the publications in dispute were newsworthy and thus constituted a protective shield from liability based upon invasion of privacy.

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