Intrusion on Seclusion

An Intrusion on Seclusion violation essentially micromanages an Invasion of Privacy claim. Basically, a person or business entity could be liable for Intrusion on Seclusion when that individual or entity intentionally intrudes upon the solitude or seclusion of another. Note: the intrusion need not actually be a physical one (IE; a telescopic lens that penetrates the seclusion acts within a building).

In most cases, the following elements must be present: (a) the defendant, or unauthorized party, must have intentionally invaded the private affairs of the aggrieved person(s), (b) the invasion must be offensive to a reasonable, prudent person, (c) the matter intruded upon by the defendant must involve a private matter, and (d) the intrusion must have caused mental anguish or suffering to the plaintiff(s).

Intrusion laws have been on the books, and basic principles have been followed in Texas for more than 40 years, since the landmark “eavesdropping” case Billings v. Atkinson, 489 S.W.2d 858, 859 (Tex. 1973). Seems a certain Mr. Atkinson - at the time, a telephone company employee - intentionally attached a wiretap device to Mr. Billings’ phone line, enabling the former to listen to the Billings’ phone conversations over a standard FM radio if connected to a telephone line. Previously, Texas law had not recognized a cause of action of a breach of the right to personal privacy, only affording privacy interests under traditional theories of libel, slander, wrongful search and seizure, and commercial wiretapping.

As Texas Supreme Court judge James G. Denton so aptly detailed in his opinion:

“The right of privacy has been defined as the right of an individual to be left alone, to live a life of seclusion, to be free from unwarranted publicity.” 77 C.J.S. Right of Privacy § 1. “A judicially approved definition of the right of privacy is that it is the right to be free from the unwarranted appropriation or exploitation of one's personality, the publicizing of one's private affairs with which the public has no legitimate concern, or the wrongful intrusion into one's private activities in such manner as to outrage or cause mental suffering, shame or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities.” 62 Am.Jur.2d, Privacy § 1, p. 677, and cases cited.  Emphasis added.

Those words have stood the test of time, and over the years have seamlessly morphed into a more specific “intrusion upon seclusion” cause of action. A minor tweak, the courts in Texas now require that the intrusion “be about or directed at” the plaintiff.  Doe v. Mobile Video Tapes, 43 S.W.3d, 40, 49 (Tex. App. 2001). Frankly, that element is a fairly easy bar to clear.

Someone snooping into your personal affairs, causing you mental anguish and suffering? Let’s have a chat.

Setterberg Law Office