Publication of Private Facts

Mason v. Grey

Date: 

01/10/2006

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Matthew Grey; Rick Gay; Kasia Gay; Riverside School District and Does 1 through 25

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
School

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court of California, Riverside County

Case Number: 

No. RIC443002

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$75,000.00

Legal Counsel: 

Fred J. Knez - Law Offices of Fred J. Knez (for Matthew Grey, Rick and Kasia Gay); John W. Marshall and Lisa V. Todd - Thompson & Colegate LLP (for Riverside Unified School District)

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

Tedd W. Mason, a high school football player, filed a lawsuit against his teammate and MySpace.com user, Matthew Grey, for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, public disclosure of private facts, invasion of privacy, false light, and defamation.  Grey allegedly punched Mason. Mason brought claims of defamation and other speech torts over Grey’s alleged discussion of Mason’s health on Grey’s MySpace.com page. Mason also brought suit against Grey’s parents, Rick and Kasia Gay, and the Riverside Unified School District.

According to Mason's complaint, he asserts that Grey, without warning, struck Mason with “a minimum of six punches to the face and head” on January 4, 2005 in the North High football team room.  Following this incident, the Riverside Unified School District allegedly mandated that Grey satisfy an "Anger Management Requirement."  Mason also contends that Grey sent him a written apology. Mason’s eight-count complaint  alleges that on or about August 3, 2005, Grey, after completing his Anger Management course, posted a message on his public page on myspace.com, a post that reads in part “FUCK TEDD . . .  I found out that im inelligable [sic] today and for some reason Tedd Mason is in need of MRI for his ‘severe headaches’ and yet he can still go full speed at practice everyday. Odd isn’t it . . .”  Compl. ¶ 47.

Mason claims that this post attempts to expose him “to hatred, contempt, ridicule or disgrace by alleging that [he] is of a dishonest character,” and  “to demonstrate that [he] is a liar, and therefore is defamatory on its face.” Compl. ¶¶ 48-49.

In addition, Mason asserts a claim for public disclosure of private facts: the disclosure of his private “health condition.” Compl. ¶ 54. Further, Mason claims that this “public disclosure was an unfair and inaccurate depiction” and therefore asserts a claim of false light invasion of privacy. Compl. ¶ 62.

Mason claims that employees of Riverside Unified School District “disclosed private facts about [his] health condition to . . . persons not authorized to receive such information, including . . . Matthew Grey, . . . Kasia Gay, and… Rick Gay,” and he asserts a claim of public disclosure of private facts. Compl. ¶ 81.

Grey, Kasia Gay and Rick Gay each answered Mason’s complaint on Feb 16, 2006. They each put forth thirteen affirmative defenses, including failure to state a claim, estoppel, unclean hands, justification, and assumption of risk.

On August 20, 2007 Mason settled his claims of negligence and public disclosure against Riverside Unified School District for $75,000. Kasia and Rick Gay moved for summary judgment on August 24, 2007, arguing that Mason's settlement with the school gave them a right of off set. This motion was denied. On July 21, 2008 Mason settled his claims against Grey, Kasia Gay and Rick Gay for an undisclosed amount.  

Jurisdiction: 

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

CMLP Notes: 

Source: WestClip

Complaint is available on Westlaw at 2006 WL 6142372 (click around the document for other case documents).

Documents found at http://public-access.riverside.courts.ca.gov/OpenAccess/CIVIL/civildetai...

AVM 6/2/09

Subject Area: 

California Court Rules That MySpace Postings Aren't Private

A California appellate court ruled last week that a young woman could not recover for invasion of privacy based on re-publication of material she posted on her MySpace page.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Hey Douchebag! Your Chicks' Case is Outta Here!

Yvette Gorzelany, Joanna Obiedzinski, and Paulina Pakos are the latest plaintiffs to seek a big payday from Simon & Schuster over the book Hot Chicks with Douchebags.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Carafano v. Metrosplash.com

Date: 

10/27/2000

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Metrosplash.com; Matchmaker.com; Lycos, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles; United States District Court for the Central District of California

Case Number: 

CV-01-0018 (federal)

Legal Counsel: 

Timothy L. Alger

Publication Medium: 

Social Network

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)
Material Removed

Description: 

Actress Christianne Carafano (stage name Chase Masterson) sued Matchmaker.com, an internet dating site, after a user created a fake profile using Masterson's name, address, telephone number, and pictures.  

Matchmaker.com is an internet dating site that allows members to post their own profiles and search a database of other members' profiles.  Members fill out a  questionnaire, and their answers become part of their profile.  Matchmaker.com does not seek to verify the identity of  members or the accuracy of the profiles.  In addition, all members must agree to the Matchmaker Disclaimer, which prohibits users from putting their home address, e-mail address, or telephone number in their profile.

An anonymous individual created a Matchmaker.com profile under the name "Chase529."  The profile listed Carafano's home address and e-mail address, and included four pictures of her.  Among other things, the answers to the questionnaire indicated that the user was "looking for a one night stand" and "might be persuaded to have a homosexual experience."   Carafano claims that she received obscene phone calls and e-mails as a result of the profile.   

After learning about the profile, Carafano contacted the police.  Two days later, Carafano's website manager contacted Matchmaker.com.  Matchmaker.com removed Chase529's profile from its system.   Carafano subsequently sued Matchmaker.com and its corporate successors (Metrosplash.com and Lycos Inc.) for defamation, invasion of privacy through publication of private facts, violation of the right of publicity, and negligence.

Matchmaker.com claimed that it was immune from liability because of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("Section 230").  Section 230 states that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."    Carafano argued that Matchmaker.com was not simply a passive service, but actually provided content since it supplied the multiple-choice questionnaire used to create profiles. 

The district court rejected Matchmaker.com's argument based on Section 230, finding that it was partly responsible for providing profile content.  The court nevertheless granted summary judgment to the defendants because Carafano had failed to raise a genuine issue of fact for essential elements of her claims.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling, but on different grounds. It held that Section 230 immunized the defendants because "Matchmaker cannot be considered an 'information content provider' under the statute because no profile has any content until a user actively creates it."  

Jurisdiction: 

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

Court Filings

Subject Area: 

Tyler v. Does

Date: 

09/24/2008

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Does 1-20

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Central District

Case Number: 

BC398715

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler filed suit against anonymous Blogspot bloggers who allegedy impersonated him and girlfriend Erin Brady.  Tyler brought claims of false light invasion of privacy, publication of private facts, and misappropriation of likeness.  

The defendants allegedly created at least two Blogspot blogs that impersonated Tyler and his girlfriend.  The blog tylers849021.blogspot.com (now removed) allegedly featured photos of Tyler and discussed details about Tyler's private life. The blogger posted under the name "STEVEN" and signed each post "ST."  A similar blog -- shelikespurple.blogspot.com -- allegedly impersonated Brady in the same manner. 

Though Tyler named 20 John Does as defendants, his complaint suggests that a single blogger may have engaged in the alleged acts.  The complaint also alleges that the defendants previously had operated similar blogs that Tyler convinced Google to take down in 2007.

Tyler's lawsuit, which he filed in California Superior Court, seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against the blogger(s) as well as damages.

Priority: 

1-High

CMLP Notes: 

From Likelihood of Confusion blog.

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

RSS

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Peters & Freedman, LLP v. McMahon

Date: 

10/27/2005

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Elizabeth McMahon; Arnold McMahon; David Osterpil; Sharon Stephens

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Orange County Superior Court

Case Number: 

05CC11632 (trial); G037871 (appeal)

Legal Counsel: 

Philip A. Putman

Publication Medium: 

Website

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

The California law firm Peters & Freedman sued Elizabeth and Arnold McMahon for libel and invasion of privacy based on statements they posted on their website, American Homeowners Resource Center, which describes itself as a “public interest interactive website for homeowners” to "help citizens in homeowner associations . . . take back their homes from the two generations of crooked lawyers, politicians, judges and vendors who have stolen them."

The law firm, which specializes in homeowners’ association law, asserts in its complaint that the McMahons falsely accused it of committing illegal and unprofessional conduct while representing homeowners associations in various lawsuits. One of the law firms lawyers, Jeffrey Pratt, also sued the McMahons for libel. See the related entry, Pratt v. McMahon, for more information.

On September 27, 2006, the McMahons filed a motion under California's anti-SLAPP statute to strike the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff's claims arose from the exercise of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and to petition for the redress of grievances.

The court denied the motion to dismiss, and a California appellate court affirmed, holding that the comments “do not concern a public issue."

The case is set for a jury trial on 1/12/09.

CMLP Notes: 

To-do: Get complaint and other court documents

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

MLRC

Subject Area: 

Jurisdiction: 

Riches v. Lavandeira

Date: 

10/15/2007

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Mario Lavandeira, a.k.a Perez Hilton

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Wyoming

Case Number: 

2:07-cv-00253

Legal Counsel: 

None

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

In October 2007, Jonathan Lee Riches, a federal inmate incarcerated in South Carolina, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Wyoming against celebrity blogger Mario Lavandeira. Riches has gained notoriety for bringing bizarre lawsuits (The Smoking Gun has coverage here and here). In this lawsuit, Riches claimed that Lavandeira "slandered me with hate and is distributing my copyrighted name Jonathan Lee Riches©, along with selling Anti Jonathan Lee Riches© mugs and T-shirts, stickers, buttons, hats."  The complaint also alleged that Lavandeira invaded his privacy by publishing a sex tape involving Riches on Perez Hilton. Riches requested an injunction shutting down Lavandeira's popular blog.

In December 2007, the court dismissed the case on its own motion, finding that the complaint did not state a claim and that it had no jurisdiction over the lawsuit.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

MLRC

Subject Area: 

Publishing Personal and Private Information: Understanding Your Legal Risks

When you publish information about someone without permission, especially personal or private information, you potentially expose yourself to legal liability even if your portrayal is factually accurate. While you should keep this potential liability in mind, the law generally gives online publishers quite a bit of breathing space to report and comment on matters of legitimate public concern, even when the person being discussed objects to the coverage.

Subject Area: 

Vanginderen v. Cornell

Date: 

10/29/2007

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Cornell University; Bert Deixler

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
School

Court Type: 

Federal
State

Court Name: 

San Diego Superior Court; United States District Court of the Southern District of California

Case Number: 

37-2007-00076496 (state); 3:07-cv-02045 (federal 1); 3:08-cv-00736 (federal 2)

Legal Counsel: 

Nelson E. Roth, Bert H. Deixler, Charles S. Sims, Clifford Scott Davidson (Proskauer Rose LLP)

Publication Medium: 

Print
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

Kevin Vanginderen, a Cornell graduate, sued Cornell University seeking $1 million in damages for libel and publication of private facts after Cornell made available online an 1983 issue of the Cornell Chronicle newspaper that reported that Vanginderen had been charged for third degree burglary in connection with incidents on the Cornell campus.

Vanginderen sued in California state court, but Cornell removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Cornell then moved to strike Vanginderen's complaint under California's anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that Cornell's posting of the 24-year-old article was an act of protected free speech, and Vanginderen could not show a likelihood of success on his defamation claim because the article was true and based on information from publicly available court records.  Further, Cornell argued that Vanginderen could not prove his pubication of private facts claim because the article was a matter of legitimate public concern.  

The court agreed with Cornell's arguments and granted its motion.  The court ruled that because the records of the underlying case were publicly available and the article dealt with a matter of legitimate public concern, Cornell was entitled to make the anti-SLAPP motion. It further held that Vanginderen could not succeed on the merits of his defamation and publication of private facts claims because the story was substantially true and newsworthy. The court did not reach Cornell's argument that the statute of limitations barred Vanginderen's lawsuit, an argument which raised the interesting question of whether digitizing the original print article and publishing it online re-published the article for purposes of the statute of limitations.

Vanginderen has appealed the ruling. Cornell filed a motion for an award of attorney's fees in July 2008, which is currently pending.

While Cornell's motion to strike was pending, Vanginderen filed a second lawsuit against Cornell in California state court, also naming Cornell's lawyer Bert Deixler as a defendant. In the second lawsuit, Vanginderen alleges that Cornell and Deixler defamed him and portrayed him in a false light by filing records of Cornell's original campus police investigation as exhibits to its motion to strike in the first case. Cornell removed the second lawsuit to federal court (docket no. 3:08-cv-00736), where the same judge is handling the case. Cornell and Deixler filed motions to strike the complaint in the second lawsuit under California's anti-SLAPP statute in June 2008.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Wargo v. Lavandeira

Date: 

07/14/2008

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Mario Lavandeira, dba PerezHilton.com and Perez Hilton; John Does

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal
State

Court Name: 

Court of Common Pleas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio

Case Number: 

CV 08 664752; 1:08-CV-2035

Legal Counsel: 

Bryan J. Freedman - Freedman & Taitelman

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

Diane Wargo sued Mario Lavandeira, also known as Perez Hilton, and 25 anonymous PerezHilton.com posters in Ohio state court after Lavandeira published an email containing homophobic slurs that Wargo sent to the blog from her work email account.

The posted version of the email included Wargo's full name, work email address, and the name of her employer. Wargo's employer fired her after it became aware of the email and received harassing emails and telephone calls. Wargo's complaint alleges that publishing her personal information violated PerezHilton.com's terms of use and privacy policy.

In the lawsuit, Wargo seeks $25 million in damages on thirteen claims, including invasion of privacy through publication of private facts, breach of contract, fraud, negligence, defamation, and both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Wargo also seeks a preliminary injunction against Lavandeira to prevent him from publicizing her personal information on his website.

Update:

08/27/08 - Case was removed to the United States District Court, Northern District of Ohio

10/03/08 - Court granted Lavandeira's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and entered judgment against Wargo.

 

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Updated 2/3/09 - VAF

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

Google Blogs

Subject Area: 

Internet "Troll" Sued for Craigslist Sex Prank

A great New York Times article last weekend drew our attention to this rather colorful legal threat and its target, Jason Fortuny, a freelance web designer, programmer, and noted (or notorious) Internet troll. In 2006, Mr.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Doe v. Fortuny

Date: 

02/20/2008

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Jason Fortuny

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court Northern District of Illinois

Case Number: 

1:08-CV-01050

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$74,252.60

Legal Counsel: 

Pro se

Publication Medium: 

Blog
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Verdict (plaintiff)

Description: 

On February 20, 2008, an anonymous plaintiff sued Jason Fortuny in Illinois federal court for copyright infringement, invasion of privacy through the publication of private facts, and intrusion, after Mr. Fortuny allegedly posted his photograph and personal information on the Internet.

Mr. Fortuny, a now-famous Internet "troll" who was featured in an August 2008 New York Times article, performed a notorious "Craigslist Experiment" in 2006, in which he posted a fake ad on Craigslist pretending to be a woman seeking a “str8 brutal dom muscular male” for sex. According to the New York Times, over one-hundred men responded, providing photographs and contact information. Mr. Fortuny allegedly posted this material to his blog, RFJason, and Encyclopedia Dramatica (described by the New York Times as "an online compendium of troll humor and troll lore"). Mr. Fortuny disputes posting the photographs and contact information to Encyclopaedia Dramatica.

One of the men who responded to Mr. Fortuny's prank filed the Illinois lawsuit, claiming that Fortuny violated his copyrights and invaded his privacy by posting his photograph and personal information. The complaint seeks $75,000 in damages and requests an injunction requiring Mr. Fortuny to remove the photograph and contact information from his website.

Mr. Fortuny is representing himself in the lawsuit. On July 11th, 2008, he filed a letter that the court treated as a motion to dismiss. The motion, in which Mr. Fortuny challenged the court's jurisdiction over him and the substance of the plaintiff's claims, is pending.

Before filing suit, the anonymous plaintiff sent Mr. Fortuny and his web host a DMCA takedown notice. Mr. Fortuny sent a counter-notification, and his host restored the material. Please see our related database entry, Doe v. Fortuny (Correspondence).

Update:

4/9/09 - The court entered a default judgment against Fortuny, requiring him to pay $74,252.56 in damages, attorneys fees, and costs. 

Jurisdiction: 

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Threat Source: 

Blog Post

Subject Area: 

Understanding Your Legal Risks When You Blog or Publish Online

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting about various topics we cover in the CMLP's Citizen Media Legal Guide.  If you would like to read any of the previous "highlights" from the guide, you can find them here

Subject Area: 

Max Mosley's S&M Party Not A Matter of Legitimate Public Concern, Says English Court

Admittedly, Max Mosley's lawsuit against an English tabloid is not the heartland of citizen media, but who can resist posting about a story that involves "sadomasochistic orgies, car racing, and Nazis," as Bill McGeveran puts it.  Mosley, the head of the governing body for Formula One racing, sued the News of the World for reporting in March 2008 that he organized a “sick Nazi orgy” with five prostitute

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Publication of Private Facts in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. For the most part, the law in Pennsylvania is similar to that described in the general page on publication of private facts. See that page for a full discussion of the elements of and defenses to a private facts claim. This page addresses only those aspects of Pennsylvania law that are different from the general description.

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