Michigan recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. For the most part, the law in Michigan 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 Michigan law that are different from the general description.
Elements of a Private Facts Claim
In Michigan, a cause of action for public disclosure of private facts requires the disclosure of (1) private information that is not already a matter of public record or otherwise open to the public eye; (2) that is of no legitimate concern to the public; and (3) the publication of which would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
Michigan law does not impose liability for publishing facts that are of legitimate public concern or newsworthy. Courts applying Michigan law have found the following things to be of legitimate public concern (i.e., newsworthy):
- a newspaper article about the plaintiff's husband's death by fire along with another woman, including biographical information about the plaintiff and her children and mentioning that her husband had been seen in a bar with the other woman before the fire;
- a report disclosing the address of a foreign judge who had received death threats from a well-known drug cartel because the death threats placed his neighbors in danger; and
- information about the disciplinary measures imposed on the plaintiff, a police officer, who allegedly failed to properly perform his duties;
In contrast, a Michigan appellate court held that, even though the topic of abortion is a matter of public interest, the identities of patients actually undergoing the procedure were not. See Doe v. Mills, 536 N.W.2d 824 (Mich. Ct. App. 1995). Similarly, another court held that, while the general topic of a newspaper article -- unique love relationships -- was of legitimate public concern, the specific facts disclosed about the plaintiff -- including that she had several abortions, engaged in partner swapping, and was involved in a surrogate parenting relationship with her former husband and her maid of honor -- were not necessarily newsworthy. See Winstead v. Sweeney, 517 N.W.2d 874 (Mich. Ct. App. 1994).
Relying on Public Records
In Michigan, you generally cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information gathered from government records that are open to public inspection. This includes court records and other government records that place information before the public eye.
Michigan recognizes consent as a defense to a publication of private facts claim. Michigan courts may recognize verbal or implied consent, but it is advisable to get it in writing whenever possible. If getting written consent is not practical, you should record try to record verbal consent using an audio or video recording device. The age of majority in Michigan is eighteen; if you interview or photograph someone under the age of eighteen, you should seek consent from the subject's parent(s) or guardian. See the general description for a more detailed discussion of release forms.
Statute of Limitations
There is no statute of limitations for an invasion of privacy claim in Michigan, but a publication of private facts claim would likely be governed by the general three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims. Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5805(8).