Invasion of Privacy: Social Networking Websites

By on June 2, 2009 - Comments off

Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel, Inc., (5th District, April 2, 2009) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2009 WL 866795

A woman who posted an article on, a social networking website, expressing negative comments about her hometown and its inhabitants, filed suit against a local high school principal and his employer for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress based upon a republication of the article. The plaintiff alleged that even though she had removed the article from the website, the high school principal had forwarded it along with her name to a local newspaper, whereupon it was republished in a letters to the editor section. The plaintiff further alleged that the community reacted violently to the publication, that she and her family had received death threats, and that a shot was fired at the family home.

The trial court sustained the defendant’s demurrer without leave to amend, but the court of appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part. In a non-published portion of the opinion the court held that the trial court should have overruled the demurrer to the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action, and permit a jury to determine whether the alleged conduct was outrageous. However, in the published portion of the opinion, the court held that the plaintiff did not state a cause of action for invasion of privacy:

“As noted above, a crucial ingredient of the applicable invasion of privacy cause of action is a public disclosure of private facts. A matter that is already public or that has previously become part of the public domain is not private. (Sipple v. Chronicle Publishing Co. (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 1040, 1047, 201 Cal.Rptr. 665.)

Here, Cynthia publicized her opinions about Coalinga by posting the Ode on, a hugely popular internet site. Cynthia’s affirmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material. . .[T]he fact that Cynthia expected a limited audience does not change the above analysis. By posting the article on, Cynthia opened the article to the public at large. Her potential audience was vast.

That Cynthia removed the Ode from her online journal after six days is also of no consequence. The publication was not so obscure or transient that it was not accessed by others. (Cf. DVD Copy Control Assn. v. Bunner (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 241, 251, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 185.) The only place that Campbell could have obtained a copy of the Ode was from the internet, either directly or indirectly.”

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