Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc.
211 P.3d 1063 (Cal. 2009).

Facts:

  • Hernandez and Lopez were employees of Hillsides and shared an office.
  • The director of the facility, John Hitchcock, discovered that late at night an unknown person had repeatedly used a computer in the plaintiffs’ office to view pornographic material.
    • The two would sometimes forget to log off of their computers.
  • Hitchcock then set up a hidden camera in their office.
    • The camera was never on during business hours, so the plaintiffs were never recorded.
  • Once the two found out about the camera, they filed a tort action for violating their right to privacy.

History:

  • The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
  • The Court of Appeal reversed.

Issue:
In this case, did placing the camera in the plaintiffs’ office violate their right to privacy?

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:
A privacy violation based on the common law tort of intrusion has two elements:

(1) The defendant must intentionally intrude into a place, conversation, or matter as to which the plaintiff has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

  • Reasonableness of privacy expectations can be linked to:
    • The identity of the intruder;
    • The extent to which other persons had access to the subject place and could see or hear the plaintiff; and
    • The means by which the intrusion occurred.

(2) The intrusion must occur in a manner highly offensive to a reasonable person.

  • Relevant factors include:
    • The degree and setting of the intrusion; and
    • The intruder’s motives and objectives.

Here, the plaintiffs satisfied the first element, but not the second:

(1) Because the office was enclosed by four walls, had blinds on the windows, and a door that could be locked, there was a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’
(2) However, because the plaintiffs were never actually recorded, and the surveillance was narrowly tailored and prompted by legitimate business concerns, the intrusion was not ‘highly offensive to a reasonable person.’

Rule: A privacy violation based on the common law tort of intrusion requires:

(1) That the defendant intentionally intrude into a place, conversation, or matter as to which the plaintiff has a reasonable expectation of privacy; and
(2) That the intrusion occur in a manner highly offensive to a reasonable person.