Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Seventh Circuit Reverses Trial Court; Rules Teen's Sex Tape Might Violate Federal Law

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a lower court in an invasion of privacy case by an anonymous minor plaintiff, saying that the defendant may have violated 18 U. S. C. Sec. 2510, the Federal Wiretap Statute, and has sent the case back to the lower court. Jason Smith had videotaped himself and his girlfriend, then underage, having sex, and had given copies to friends. Of course the tape surfaced on the 'net. The by now former girlfriend, identified only as Jane Doe, sued for invasion of privacy and, under the Federal Wiretap Statute, for an unauthorized interception and disclosure. The statute creates a private right of action for damages (section 2520).

The lower court had originally dismissed the action in Doe v. Smith on a 12(b)(6) motion,"ruling that Doe's complaint is defective because it does not allege in so many words that the recording was an "interception" within the meaning of ยง2510(4)." However, the appellate court opined that "pleadings in federal court need not allege facts corresponding to each "element" of a statute. It is enough to state a claim for relief -- and Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 departs from the old code-pleading practice by enabling plaintiffs to dispense with the need to identify, and plead specifically to, each ingredient of a sound legal theory....Plaintiffs need not plead facts; they need not plead law; they plead claims for relief. Usually they need do no more than narrate a grievance simply and directly, so that the defendant knows what he has been accused of. Doe has done that; it is easy to tell what she is complaining about. Any district judge (for that matter, any defendant) tempted to write "this complaint is deficient because it does not contain. . ." should stop and think: What rule of law requires a complaint to contain that allegation? Rule 9(b) has a short list of things that plaintiffs must plead with particularity, but "interception" is not on that list."

The court remanded to the district court to consider the question of anonymity, saying, "That question should be explored in the district court--and, if the judge decides that anonymous litigation is inappropriate, the plaintiff should be allowed to dismiss the suit in lieu of revealing her name."

Read the entire ruling here.

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