Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Torts-West V. Media General Convergence, Inc.: Tennessee's Recognition of the Tort of False Light Invasion of Privacy

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Torts-West V. Media General Convergence, Inc.: Tennessee's Recognition of the Tort of False Light Invasion of Privacy

Article excerpt

Media General Convergence, Inc.1 (Media General) aired an investigative report about a relationship that existed between a local private probation service business and the Hamilton County General Sessions Court.2 Charmaine West and First Alternative, Inc. (Plaintiffs), the parties involved with the operation of the probation service business, brought suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee based on Media General's airing

of the report on television.3 Plaintiffs alleged that the report contained defamatory statements about the illegality of the Plaintiffs' business.4

In addition to defamation, the Plaintiffs claimed that the report implied that Ms. West was sexually involved with one of the general sessions judges.5 Accordingly, the Plaintiffs brought suit for false light invasion of privacy6 against Media General.7

In response to the complaint, Media General filed a motion to dismiss the Plaintiffs' claim of false light invasion of privacy.8 The district court certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Tennessee: "Do the courts of Tennessee recognize the tort of false light invasion of privacy, and if so, what are the parameters and elements of that tort?"9 The Tennessee Supreme Court accepted the certified question and held, answered. The tort of false light invasion of privacy is recognized under Tennessee law. West v. Media General Convergence, Inc., 53 S.W.3d 640, 645 (Tenn. 2001).

In 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in their influential article, The Right to Privacy, examined the issue of whether common law afforded protection for an individual's right to privacy.10 Warren and Brandeis noted that as civilization and its technology evolved, the recognition of causes of action that afforded modern men protection against these technologies evolved as well.ll Technologies of particular concern in the context of the right to privacy were "[i]nstantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise[s that] invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life."12 Addressing the reasons why common law must recognize a tort that protects an individual's right of privacy, Warren and Brandeis reasoned:

The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization, have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.13

In 1905, following the Warren and Brandeis article, the

Georgia Supreme Court, in Pavesich v. New England Life Insurance Co.,14 was the first jurisdiction to accept the views expressed in the Warren and Brandeis article about the existence of a tort for right of privacy. …

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