No damage award for violations of Right to Privacy

The California Constitution includes a right to privacy that protects against both government and private snooping.  Prior cases have noted that individuals can win injunctive relief to enforce this right and prevent snooping in the future.  What relief is available, however, if all of the spy work has been completed?  According to the Court of Appeal in Richardson-Tunnell v. School Insurance Program for Employees, there is no claim for damages against the government.

Richardson-Tunnell was a school employee and suffered a back injury which required disc replacement surgery.  The school district wanted to know just how injured she was, so it hired Eye-Con Investigators to crash her wedding and video tape the ceremony and the reception and, for good measure, to use telephoto lenses to snap pictures of her and her husband sun-bathing while on their honeymoon.  Richardson-Tunnell sued for damages, claiming a violation of her constitutional right to privacy.

The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the action.  Public employees are immune, pursuant to Government Code §821.6, for liability resulting from investigations that could lead to administrative proceedings.  Even though the school district failed to raise this claim in its answer, this immunity is jurisdictional and cannot be waived.

Because of the statutory immunity, the court did not reach the question of whether the California constitutional right to privacy provides a cause of action for damages.  For now, the only available relief is to prevent future spying with an injunction.

Leave a Reply