SANDERS V. ABC AND OTHER NEW INTRUSION CASES
In addition to the Shulman v. Group W Productions
case, decided in 1998, the California Supreme Court ruled on another hidden-camera
case in 1999: Sanders v. ABC.
In the Sanders case, ABC's "Prime Time Live"
allegedly violated a telepsychic's privacy by using a hidden camera inside
his workplace while he was giving advice to clients by telephone.
Mark Sanders and a second telepsychic who later died were photographed
inside partitioned cubicles by an ABC reporter who went under cover, taking
a job as a telepsychic so she could obtain video for a story about the
telepsychic business. A jury awarded Sanders $1.2 million in damages
in 1994, but an appellate court overturned the verdict, ruling that Sanders
had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his cubicle, which was not
fully enclosed. As indicated in the text, the California Supreme
Court reversed the appellate court ruling, clearing the way for Sanders
to seek the reinstatement of the large damage award. The state Supreme
Court ruled that there is a limited expectation of privacy in a
partitioned cubicle in an office.
The second telepsychic's death led to still
another lawsuit against ABC, with his parents claiming that ABC's conduct
caused him to drink heavily--and that the drinking caused his death.
The ninth circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected that argument and
tossed out the parents' case (Kersis v. ABC, 1999). The ninth
circuit later ruled, in Sussman v. ABC, that 12 employees of the
telepsychic operation could not sue ABC for violating the federal anti-wiretapping
statute unless they could show that ABC intended to commit a crime or a
civil wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of
the Sussman case in a January, 2000 order.
If there is some expectation of privacy in
an office with partitioned cubicles, that is not true of an open patio
at a restaurant. In Simtel Communications v. NBC, another
1999 decision, a California appellate court refused to allow two salesmen
to sue NBC for secretly videotaping them making a sales pitch at a table
on a crowded patio. NBC producers, posing as potential
investors, used a hidden camera to tape the pitch, which was later
shown on "Dateline NBC." The court noted that the taping was done
in a busy place and that NBC did not "intrude into (the
salesmen's) personal lives, intimate relations or any other private
Still another appellate court upheld a family's
right to sue for invasion of privacy because the producers of the TV show,
"LAPD: Life on the Beat," aired a videotape of police officers
telephoning the parents of a man who died from a drug overdose.
The parents were unaware of the taping when they took the call. Even
though no names were used and the parents' responses were largely unintelligible,
the court held that they could sue (Marich v. QRZ Media, 1999).
The California Supreme Court later "depublished" the Marich decision,
which means it was not overturned but it may not be cited as a legal precedent.
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