Monday, March 18, 2013

Old law discarded today re tort of diclosing private facts

For a nice example of how old rules are discarded and new law is made, look no further than today's opinion Ignat v. Yum! Brands. Here are three key paragaphs:
     To sum up, the "rule" requiring a written publication as an element of a public disclosure of private facts privacy claim in California originated in dictum – which lacked support in the case law on which it was based – in an opinion that rejected the tort and all its principles, instead basing its holding on another principle entirely. It was followed by two cases from the 1960's, both of which cited Melvin's "principle" as if it had been a holding instead of a detour. (Gautier v. General Telephone Co., supra, 234 Cal.App.2d at p. 303; Grimes v. Carter, supra, 241 Cal.App.2d at pp. 698-699.) With these two exceptions, restricting privacy violations to written publications has been either roundly criticized or ignored by the courts dealing with disclosure of private facts in oral statements since the principle was first enunciated, in dictum, in Melvin. This is not a firm foundation for a ruling dismissing a cause of action.
     We conclude that limiting liability for public disclosure of private facts to those recorded in a writing is contrary to the tort's purpose, which has been since its inception to allow a person to control the kind of information about himself made available to the public – in essence, to define his public persona. (See Briscoe, supra, 4 Cal.3d at p. 534; The Right to Privacy, supra, 4 Harv. L.Rev. at pp. 198-199.) While this restriction may have made sense in the 1890's – when no one dreamed of talk radio or confessional television – it certainly makes no sense now. Private facts can be just as widely disclosed – if not more so – through oral media as through written ones. To allow a plaintiff redress for one kind of disclosure but not the other, when both can be equally damaging to privacy, is a rule better suited to an era when the town crier was the principal purveyor of news. It is long past time to discard this outmoded rule.
     The requirement that a public disclosure be in writing was the only basis for the trial court's ruling on respondents' motion for summary judgment. Accordingly we do not address any other issues raised in the motion or any other potential problems with the cause of action. Our ruling is limited to the necessity for private facts to be disclosed in a writing. We hold that disclosure in a writing is not required to maintain a cause of action for public disclosure of private facts.

What's more delicious than new law?