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Consent must be given freely and voluntarily to be valid. It must be shown that there was no duress or coercion, actual or implied. The voluntariness of consent must be judged in light of the totality of the circumstances. In a civil case, the issue of whether consent was valid is a question of fact that must be decided by the trier of fact.
The employer asked to search the employee's home, after informants told the employer that the employee removed equipment from the employer's store without permission. The employer interviewed the employee and questioned him about missing fishing equipment. The employee gave consent to search his home only to show that he did not have any fishing equipment. When the search was executed, there were 10-15 of the employer's employees and 5 police officers and the search took over 7 hours. Although the employee asked the employer to review receipts to show that he purchased the items being seized, the employer did not look at them. The employer seized over 400 items and inventoried them on the employee's front lawn. The newspaper published an article about the search. The employee sued the employer for defamation, false-light invasion of privacy, and intrusion invasion of privacy. A jury found in favor of the employee on the issues of defamation, false-light invasion of privacy, and intrusion invasion of privacy. The trial court denied the employer's posttrial motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, new trial, and remittitur after a hearing. The employer appealed.
Did the trial court err in submitting the intrusion invasion-of-privacy claim to the jury because the employee consented to the intrusion, and a finding of liability would violate due process?
The appellate court held that substantial evidence existed to show that the employee did not give full consent to search his home. The court held that the jury could have reasonably concluded from the record that any consent Clark may have given was both limited and obtained through duress or coercion and, therefore, invalid. The defamation claim was supported by substantial evidence, as the employer's reports were broadcast over the police radio, and other employees were overheard to have made statements to third parties. A qualified privilege did not apply, as the statements were not made in good faith.