This week, New Jersey’s Supreme Court issued a decision in the matter of Friedman v. Martinez, (A-37/81-18) (081093), which affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a number of claims made alleging “intrusion upon seclusion.” The plaintiffs were women who worked in an office building, where the defendant, Teodoro Martinez, while working as a janitor in the building, had allegedly implanted a camera in several women’s’ restrooms and locker rooms. The suit followed the discovery of one of the cameras, which had some recorded images of several of the plaintiffs on it. The camera also contained evidence that other recordings had been taken, but deleted.
After several years of discovery, the defendants, which included Mr. Martinez’ former employer, the building owner, and building manager, moved for dismissal of a number of the plaintiffs’ claims, contending that there was no evidence that their privacy had been intruded upon because they had not been identified on any of the images recorded by the hidden camera. The trial court dismissed these claims, and the Appellate Division reversed, holding that evidence of an actual recording was unnecessary to the establishment of an intrusion upon seclusion claim.
On certification, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court had properly granted summary judgment, while acknowledging that the Appellate Division was correct – evidence of an actual recording of one of the plaintiffs on the hidden camera was not necessary to state a prima facie claim of intrusion upon seclusion under New Jersey law. “[A] victim does not have to present evidence that she was secretly recorded to bring a cause for intrusion on seclusion” in this state. Rather, the tort is tied to the placement of a surveillance device in an area reasonably expected to be private. “It is the intrusion itself, and not an actual viewing, that is critical. And that intrusion takes place when a victim uses a private space where a spying device has been concealed; it does not depend on when — or whether — direct evidence of actual spying is found.” The Court noted, however, that the absence of a recording may be relevant to the issue of damages, but does not demonstrate the failure to state a claim altogether.
To prove that an intrusion occurred, a victim may rely on circumstantial evidence. For instance, a court could reasonably infer that someone who worked in the vicinity of a bathroom around the same time that a camera was hidden there, would meet the standard under New Jersey law. The dismissed plaintiffs in this action had failed to adduce any evidence as to proximity in time or location to the hidden camera, and as such, the Supreme Court agreed that the cases were properly dismissed by the trial court.