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Villanova v. Innovative Investigations

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Citation Edit

Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, Inc., 420 N.J.Super. 353, 21 A.3d 650 (2011).

Factual Background Edit

Plaintiff Villanova filed a complaint for intentional or negligent invasion of his right to privacy after his ex-wife (then current wife) installed a GPS device in the family car following the advice of her private investigator. Ms. Villanova retained the services of Defendant. Innovative Investigations, Inc., a private investigation company, after suspecting her husband of cheating. According to the record, Ms. Villanova was the one who accessed the information gathered by the GPS unit, however, Plaintiff Villanova alleges that Ms. Villanova shared this information with the Defendant.

Plaintiff alleged that by placing a GPS tracking device in the vehicle shared by the couple, although used primarily by Plaintiff, that Mrs. Villanova intruded upon his solitude and seclusion, thus violating his privacy. He further contended that Defendants violated his privacy by suggesting Mrs. Villanova’s course of action in installing the device. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants because Plaintiff Villanova was unable to establish that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in any of the information allegedly gathered by the GPS device. It was undisputed that the vehicle in which the device was installed was jointly owned by the Villanova couple and that it was insured only for personal use. In order to substantiate a claim for invasion of privacy, a plaintiff must be able to prove some privacy interest in the information in question. The record merely reflected that Mrs. Villanova was privy to Plaintiff’s normal driving routes and destination and location information, but nothing suggested that information would not have been freely available to anyone else on the road.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The New Jersey Constitution provides:

All persons are by nature free and independent, and have certain natural and unalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and of pursing and obtaining safety and happiness.[1]

As a tort, an invasion of privacy encompasses “four distinct kinds of invasions of four different interests of the plaintiff.”[2] These are (1) intrusion, (2) public disclosure of private facts, (3) placing plaintiff in a false light in the public eye, and (4) appropriation, for the defendant’s benefit, of the plaintiff’s name or likeness.

There is no liability under the tort of invasion of privacy “for observing [a plaintiff] or even taking his [or her] photograph while he [or she] is walking on a public highway, since he [or she] is not then in seclusion, and his [or her] appearance is public and open to the public eye.”[3] “A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his [or her] movements from one place to another.”[4]

Plaintiff argued, and the court agreed, that it was possible that Plaintiff could have traveled onto a secluded location that was not in public view, or entered private property on which an ordinary observer would not have been privy to his location. In either circumstance, the use of a GPS device to continue to track his movements could have been considered an invasion of his privacy; however, the record was devoid of any such travels by the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff did try, unsuccessfully, to argue that he used his vehicle at times for his work as a sheriff, and that his location while acting in his official capacity was protected by a heightened standard of privacy. The judge, however, was unconvinced that Plaintiff was actually using his personal vehicle to perform official duties, or that he was authorized to do so if he were.

For failure to present any evidence of the discovery or disclosure of information in which Plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the summary judgment was affirmed.

References Edit

  1. N.J. Const. art. 1, par. 1.
  2. Rumbauskas v. Cantor, 138 N.J. 173, 179 (1994).
  3. Restatement (Second) of Torts §652B, comment c (1977).
  4. United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276, 281 (1983).

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