Public Disclosure of Private Facts
Public Disclosure of Private Facts:
A highly offensive disclosure by the defendant of private facts about the plaintiff.
To prove a prima facie case of public disclosure of private facts, the plaintiff must prove a highly offensive disclosure by the defendant of private facts about the plaintiff.
In addition, the plaintiff must demonstrate that there was:
(1) No legitimate public interest that was served
by having these private facts disclosed
Thus, for example, if the defendant reveals private facts about plaintiff that are contained in a last will and testament, the plaintiff cannot bring a cause of action based on this disclosure because a will is a public document and thus, anything contained in it, no matter how private or personal to the plaintiff, is a matter of public record.
Next, the plaintiff must prove that the disclosure was of such a nature that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. See Sidis v. F-R Publishing Corp., 113 F.2d 806 (2nd Cir. 1940). Thus, for example, a defendant disclosing that the plaintiff likes to eat chocolate ice cream before going to bed is not highly offensive. However, a defendant disclosing that the plaintiff "sleeps around" would be highly offensive.
Further, the disclosure must involve some measure
of publicity. That is to say, these private facts must be communicated
either to the public, or to enough people that it is likely to reach
the general public. See
Brents v. Morgan, 299 S.W. 967 (Ky. 1927). Thus, for example:
Further, in order for the plaintiff to have a viable cause of action, he must demonstrate that the information that the defendant disclosed is not newsworthy. The term “newsworthy” is generally interpreted to mean “matters that are a legitimate public interest”. In the event that the defendant published private facts about the plaintiff that involve a legitimate public interest, the plaintiff will not have a viable cause of action.
Although the lives of public figures may be generally considered to be legitimate public interest, there are certain elements to a public figure’s life that are so private as to be considered beyond legitimate public interest. Publication of these kinds of facts is actionable. See Diaz v. Oakland Tribune, Inc., 139 Cal. App. 3d 118 (1983).
In addition, certain private facts about involuntary public figures can be disclosed so long as those facts are newsworthy.
Further, facts about someone who was formerly a public figure but is no longer in the public eye are not actionable so long as those facts are considered newsworthy.
Finally, as with intrusion upon seclusion, a cause of action for disclosing private facts requires proof of causation.
As with intrusions, consent is a complete defense
to public disclosure of private facts. Where the plaintiff himself divulges
private information to the defendant, the general rule is that the defendant
will not be liable for disclosing those facts.
Thanks to the constitutional rights of free speech and freedom of the press, the media enjoys certain privileges in regard to public disclosure of private facts.
Finally, as far as damages go, the same rule that applies for intrusions applies here as well.