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 affairs."

     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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