Court Recognizes Privacy Claims in Case over Nude Vacation Photos
The state Supreme Court in St. Paul recognized a right to privacy for the first time in late July in a case involving distribution by Wal-Mart photo lab employees of nude photographs of customers who had brought film to the discount store to be developed.
The lower courts, recognizing that invasion of privacy claims had never before been allowed under Minnesota law, had dismissed the customers' lawsuit, but the Supreme Court approved causes of action for intrusion upon seclusion, appropriation, and publication of private facts.
Elli Lake and Melissa Webervacationed in Mexico in March of 1995 with Weber's sister, Camie. During that vacation, Camie took a photograph of the other two women as one was leaving and the other was entering the shower. Both women were nude in the photograph.
After returning home to Dilworth, Minn., Lake took five rolls of film to WalMart for developing. When she returned to pick up her pictures, she received a notice that one of the negatives was not printed because it contained nudity. None of the women questioned the notice or pursued printing the negative.
In the summer of 1995, however, an acquaintance of the two women alluded to the photograph and questioned their sexual orientation. Then, just before Christmas 1995, another friend of the two women indicated that Wal-Mart employees had shown her the photograph. Shortly thereafter, one of the women was told that the nude photograph was "circulating in the community."
The two women in the photograph sued Wal-Mart in district court in Moorhead in February 1996 and asserted a right to recover damages under the four traditional privacy torts - intrusion upon seclusion, appropriation, publication of private facts, and false light publicity.
The trial court concluded that Minnesota had not recognized any of the four invasion of privacy torts and dismissed the lawsuit. The court of appeals in St. Paul agreed with the trial court and upheld the dismissal. The women subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The women argued on appeal that most other jurisdictions in the United States 49 by their count- have recognized privacy torts and that the Minnesota courts should not simply leave it to the state legislature to establish the same privacy rights that other states provide their citizens.
The women discounted arguments from Wal-Mart that the recognition of privacy torts would result in a "flood of litigation and frivolous claims" by stating that it "makes no difference whether recognition would increase the amount of litigation. The citizens of Minnesota would be loathe to learn that their rights and privileges can shrink or expand on the case load of our admittedly overburdened courts."
Moreover, the women argued that the recognition of privacy torts was not really "a new idea," but rather "an old idea that needs new protections." The women argued that the four privacy torts were grounded in a "fundamental right of liberty: the right to be let alone"' and stated that, without the privacy torts, "the law allows private citizens to invade ![the] privacy of other citizens with impunity and without repercussion." The women stated that without the privacy torts, "Minnesota's citizens are at the mercy of the Wal-Marts."
In response, Wal-Mart contended that there was, in fact, no fundamental right to liberty involved. "The constitutional right of privacy," Wal-Mart stated, "has never been extended to include the right to prevent the disclosure of personal information."
Furthermore, lA;al-Mart asserted that the creation of a new cause of action in Minnesota for invasion of privacy was a job for the legislature, which, unlike the courts, could provide a proper forum for the evaluation and full debate regarding public policy that should precede a change in the law.
Wal-Mart also expressed concern about the judicial creation of new privacy torts …
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Publication information: Article title: Court Recognizes Privacy Claims in Case over Nude Vacation Photos. Contributors: Not available. Magazine title: News Media and the Law. Volume: 22. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 1998. Page number: 38+. © Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Fall 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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