Brief Fact Summary.
A California Court of Appeals held that in order to succeed in a claim for disclosure of a private fact, the plaintiff has the burden of proof in showing that there was a public disclosure, of a private fact, which would be offensive and objectionable to a reasonable person and is not a legitimate public concern.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A plaintiff has the burden of proof in showing that the defendant disclosed publically a private fact that caused an injury to the plaintiff by showing the information that was spread amongst the public was publically disclosed, a private fact, which a reasonable person would object to, and is not of legitimate public concern.
After receiving a gender change surgery from male to female, Toni Diaz (Plaintiff) decided she did not want the public to know of her transition because she was accepted publically and no one was questioning her change. Diaz only told a few members of her family and close friends but for the most part kept her decision private. Toni made changes to all of her government documents including her license and social security card. Diaz served as a student body president and became the subject of a controversy regarding misuse of student funds. Sidney Jones (Defendant) was a writer for the Oakland Tribune and she discovered the gender transformation for ma confidential informant. Jones confirmed this transformation via police reports from Diaz’s prior arrest record. Jones wrote a story revealing Diaz’s gender transformation. As a result, Diaz suffered depression and other mental disorders. At trial, the jury awarded both compensatory and punitive damages to Diaz. The Oakland Tribune and Jones appealed.
When a plaintiff brings an action for public disclosure or private fact, does the plaintiff have the burden of proof in showing the information that was spread publically was publically disclosed, a private fact, which would be unpleasant and offensive to a reasonable person, and that fact is not a public concern?
Yes. The court determines that the information was not part of a public domain and therefore the information was illegally published. The court also looks at the fact that Diaz intended to keep the information private and did so at great lengths. Furthermore, Jones relied on the confidential information and simply used the police records to confirm her suspicions which should have warned Jones the information was intended to be private. Finally, the court determined the news was not newsworthy and further decided a reasonable person in this situation would object to the release of this information.
The court looks at whether the private information was stored or recorded in a public domain. If the information was recorded in a public domain then the information could be publically spread however, the medical records of Diaz are not recorded in a public domain and therefore cannot be spread publically without Diaz’s express permission.