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Intel Corporation v. Hamidi

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff, Intel Corporation, provides its employees with an email system and allows its employees to have “reasonable non-business use” of the emails. Defendant, Plaintiff’s former employee, on six separate occasions over a two year period, sent mass emails to about 35,000 of Plaintiff’s current employees. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgement, which the court granted and issued an injunction preventing Defendant from sending more emails from Plaintiff’s system. The court of appeal affirmed, and Defendant appeals.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A trespass to chattels is present when the defendant intentionally interferes with the possession of the plaintiff’s personal property, which causes some actual injury to the property.

    Facts.

    Intel Corporation, Plaintiff, provides an electronic mail (email) system for its employees. Plaintiff permits its employees to have “reasonable non-business use” of the emails. In six separate incidents over two years, Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi, Defendant, Plaintiff’s former employee, sent mass emails to about 35,000 of Plaintiff’s current employees at a time. Defendant’s communications to the Plaintiff’s employees were vital to Plaintiff’s employment practices. Defendant would provide Plaintiff’s employees with the chance of opting out of receiving his emails if they wanted to. Plaintiff’s employees, who received the emails, would discuss the emails’ content among other employees and managers. Besides such actions, Defendants emails did not cause any other disruption to Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s computers. Multiple times, Plaintiff asked Defendant to stop using its equipment to send messages. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant and asserted a trespass to chattels claim. Plaintiff motioned for summary judgement, and the trial court granted the motion and issued an injunction preventing Defendant from sending emails to Plaintiff’s employees through Plaintiff’s email system. The appellate court affirmed, and Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a trespass to chattels occurs when the defendant intentionally interferes with the possession of the plaintiff’s personal property, which causes some actual injury to the property.

    Held.

    Yes, a trespass to chattels occurs when the defendant intentionally interferes with the possession of the plaintiff’s personal property, which causes some actual injury to the property.

    Dissent.

    Plaintiff’s main concern is founded on the content of Defendant’s emails. Nonetheless, this concern does not decrease the persuasiveness of Plaintiff argument that Defendant should not be able to use the company’s system to send messages. Plaintiff has spent time and money building the system. Because Plaintiff is a private property owner of the system, Plaintiff is not bound to the First Amendment restrains and should be able to prevent Defendant from sending emails on the system.

    Defendant’s actions should not be allowed because he is not communicating on a broad public forum of the Internet. Instead, Defendant is using Plaintiff’s system to spread his ideas. 

    Concurrence.

    Plaintiff has not established damages to Plaintiff’s computer system or functionality, due to Defendant’s emails. This case is similar to a person receiving unwanted phone calls from a phone number. There would not be any actual damages to the phone. Thus, there would not be a valid claim for a trespass to chattels

    Discussion.

    A trespass to chattels is present when the defendant intentionally interferes with the possession of the plaintiff’s personal property, which causes some actual injury to the property. An unwanted email may constitute a trespass to chattels only if the volume and frequency of the communications sufficiently create a burden on the recipients of the emails. CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc., 962 F. Supp. 1015 (1997). In CompuServe, the defendant sent such a large amount of spam emails to the plaintiff, causing plaintiff’s system’s functionality to be harmed. Unlike in CompuServe, the messages in this case by Defendant were infrequent and did not actually harm to Plaintiff’s computer system. Further, any harm that may have arisen with regard to Plaintiff’s employees who read the email would be a result of the emails content, not the emails themselves. Likewise, Plaintiff is not entitled to recover under trespass to chattel based on the fact that its employees may be less productive due to the fact that they were reading the emails and not working. Plaintiff does not have a recognised “property interest” in its employees’ time. Therefore, court of appeals’ decision is reversed.


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