Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, November 24, 2006

District Court Rules For Defendant Publisher in Invasion of Privacy Suit

A federal district court judge, applying Maryland state law, has ruled in Barnhart v. Paisano Publications that the publisher who disseminated photographs in its publication Easyriders of a partially nude plaintiff at an outdoor party is not liable for invasion of privacy. Plaintiff Tonya Barnhart had alleged intrusion into seclusion, false light, and misappropriation based on Paisano's publication of "Ms. Barnhart in her exposed state." Said the court, "...[P]laintiff's lifting up of her shirt cannot reasonably be said to have constituted a private act. She exposed herself at an outdoor fund-raising event open to any member of the public who purchased a ticket. According to plaintiff's own estimate, about 200 people were present...."

With regard to the false light invasion of privacy claim, the court noted that "...plaintiff's claim is not that the published photograph somehow distorts her true appearance, but that the photograph's publication gives the impression that she is the type of person who consents to having a topless photograph of herself published in Easyriders magazine." The court found that while Maryland did not seem to have a case on point, other courts had addressed the question. It examined Braun v. Flynt (5th Circ.) and Douglass v. Hustler (7th Circ.). However, unlike the plaintiffs in Braun and Douglass, the court in Barnhart concluded that the plaintiff failed to submit evidence to show that the defendant had placed her in a false light.

Finally, the court dismissed the plaintiff's misappropriation claim. "The record does not establish that plaintiff is famous or a professional model or that there is any special value associated with her likeness. Moreover...plaintiff's photograph was taken at a public, outdoor event. Accordingly, her appropriation claim fails as a matter of law."

The case is Barnhart v. Paisano Publications, Civil No. JFM-06-318. Read the entire ruling here.

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