Citation. Bridges v. Cape Publications, Inc., 464 U.S. 893, 104 S. Ct. 239, 78 L. Ed. 2d 229, 52 U.S.L.W. 3291 (U.S. Oct. 11, 1983)
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Circuit Court for Brevard County (Florida) awarded damages to the Appellee, Bridges (Appellee), in her suit on theories of invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and trespass, resulting from the Appellant, Cape Publications, Inc’s (Appellant), conduct in publishing a photograph of the Appellee being rescued by police from being held hostage by her estranged husband. The Appellant publisher challenged the decision.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The right of privacy does not necessarily protect a person against the publication of his name or photograph in connection with the dissemination of legitimate news or other matters of public interest. At some point, the public interest in obtaining information becomes dominant over the individual’s right of privacy.
The Appellee brought suit against the Appellant alleging invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. The Appellee alleged that the Appellant publisher printed, in its newspaper, photos of her when was forced by her estranged husband to disrobe while being held hostage. The Appellant published a story reporting an incident where her estranged husband came to her place of employment, abducted her, and forced her at gunpoint to their former residence. The Police surrounded the residence and news organizations reported the action-packed drama. Upon hearing a gunshot, police stormed the residence and rushed the Appellee to safety. She was still nude at the time of the rescue and was escorted to a police car in full public view. The Appellant published a semi-revealing photograph and the Appellee brought suit. A jury awarded the Appellee $1,000 compensatory and $9,000 punitive, damages.
Did the Appellant’s publishing of the photograph of the Appellee, in the context of a new story, constitute a violation of the Appellee’s right to privacy?
No. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court erred in denying the Appellant’s motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The Court concluded that the Appellant’s publication of the photo with the account of an incident in the public interest was not actionable and that the Appellee had failed to show the outrageousness required for an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Restatement cites four separate torts for invasion of privacy: (i) intrusion upon seclusion, (ii) appropriation of plaintiff’s name or picture, (iii) placing the plaintiff in a false light before the public (iv) and public disclosure of private facts. At issue in Cape is how the latter may be applied within the context of news reporting. The court stated, “The right of privacy does not necessarily protect a person against the publication of his name or photograph in connection with the dissemination of legitimate news or other matters of public interest.” Essentially, there is a line between private information and public information that cuts between an individual’s rights and the public right to information. The court noted, “At some point the public interest in obtaining information becomes dominant over the individual’s right of privacy. The truth may be spoken, written or printed about all matters of a private nature in which the public has a legitimate interest.
Within the scope of legitimate public concern are matters customarily regarded as “news.” Further, the court observed, “Authorized publicity, customarily regarded as news, includes publications concerning crimes, arrests, police raids, suicides, marriages, divorces, accidents, fires, catastrophes of nature, narcotics related deaths, rare diseases, and many other matters of genuine popular appeal.” Thus, the issue in any case is one of selecting an appropriate standard: “In determining the extent of the right of privacy, the standard by which the right is measured is based upon a concept of the person of reasonable sensibility; the hypersensitive individual will not be protected.”
The court then outlined the basic guidelines for determining whether the essential elements were met. “An invasion of the right of privacy occurs not with the mere publication of a photograph, but occurs when a photograph is published where the publisher should have known that its publication would offend the sensibilities of a normal person, and whether there has been such an offense of invasion of privacy is to some extent a question of law.” Consequently, the court added, “Where one becomes an actor in an occurrence of public interest, it is not an invasion of her right to privacy to publish her photograph with an account of such occurrence. Just because the story and the photograph may be embarrassing or distressful to the plaintiff does not mean the newspaper cannot publish what is otherwise newsworthy.” Thus, applied to the facts in the instant case, plaintiff’s exposure was a legitimate exercise in news reporting and, accordingly, the court reve