Like most people, you have probably used Google Maps, and perhaps have seen a photo of your home on the Street View service. What are your privacy rights related to Google, or others, taking that picture and making it available on the internet?
A couple near Pittsburg, Aaron and Christine Boring, filed a lawsuit against Google when they discovered that Google had put a photo of the Boring residence on its Street View map. The Borings contended that Google could have taken the photo only if Google’s photographer had traveled on a private road that led to the Boring’s residence. Mr. and Mrs. Boring’s claims, which were eventually heard in Federal Court, were for invasion of privacy, trespass, unjust enrichment, and damages including punitive damages.
The trial court threw out all of the claims. The Borings appealed. The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal for all of the counts except that of Trespass.
Generally speaking, Trespass is an unprivileged, intentional intrusion by one person upon land which is in possession of another person. The person who intentionally enters land in the possession of another is subject to liability to the owner for a Trespass, even though his presence on the land causes no harm to either the land or to the owner. If the owner can prove an amount of actual damages, he is entitled to recover that; if not, he may be entitled to recover what is called “nominal” damages – usually an insignificant sum such as one dollar.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the Borings should have the opportunity to prove that Google actually trespassed on their land. If so, the Borings would be entitled to whatever damages they could prove, even if it were nominal damages.
After the litigation was returned to the trial court, the parties engaged in settlement discussions with the assistance of the trial judge. The matter settled shortly thereafter when Google acknowledged that it had trespassed, and the parties agreed to a judgment in the amount of one dollar. Both sides claimed satisfaction. Google released a statement saying: “We are pleased that this lawsuit has finally ended with plaintiffs’ acknowledgment that they are entitled to only $1.” The Borings claimed satisfaction with the vindication of their claim for Trespass. There was no report on the amount money or time spent to achieve this result.
Was this folly, or was it principle triumphing over principal?