Doe v. Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC
August 4, 2020
In Doe v. Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC, Plaintiff sued the Defendants for invasion of privacy, as well as negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and two counts of copyright infringement for their role in publishing a certain video tape taken by Plaintiff while in the midst of an “aggressive” encounter between herself and her work superior. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld the Superior Court’s decision granting Defendants motion to dismiss the Plaintiff’s complaint. In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeals noted that “invasion of privacy” is not merely one tort; it contains four separate and distinct torts, “each with distinct elements and each describing a separate interest capable of being invaded.” (citation omitted). Among the four are: “(1) intrusion upon one’s . . . seclusion; (2) public disclosure of private facts; (3) publicity that places one in a false light in the public eye; and (4) appropriating one’s name or likeness for another’s benefit.” (citation omitted). As the Plaintiff did not argue her claim of “intrusion upon seclusion” on appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed the remaining three torts in turn, holding (1) that “the Plaintiff has not set forth sufficient facts to establish that publicizing this matter would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and of no legitimate concern to the public”; (2) that “no reasonable person who viewed and heard the broadcast could have received the [false] impression”; and (3) that “incidental use of [a person’s] name or likeness or publication for a purpose other than taking advantage of a person’s reputation or the value associated with his name will not result in actionable appropriation.” Given its analysis of each in turn, the Court of Appeals held that the Superior Court did not err in granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint. Additionally, the Court of Appeals briefly considered the Plaintiff’s infliction of emotional distress claims against Defendants, and concluded that Plaintiff’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress must fail as she and the Defendants did not share a close enough relationship to hold Defendants accountable to Plaintiff for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Finally, in considering the Plaintiff’s claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Court of Appeals concluded that her complaint failed to “allege conduct so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community”; therefore, it must also fail.
Doe v. Bernabei & Wachtel PLLC, No. 14-CV-432 (D.C.C.A. June 25, 2015)