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Bisbee v. John C. Conover Agency Inc.

Decided: October 20, 1982.

JOHN W. BISBEE, JR. AND ADELAIDE C. BISBEE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
JOHN C. CONOVER AGENCY, INC., A CORPORATION, JOHN C. CONOVER AND ASBURY PARK PRESS, INC., A CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Fritz, Joelson and Petrella. The opinion of the court was delivered by Petrella, J.A.D.

Petrella

Plaintiffs filed a complaint in four counts against defendants, essentially alleging invasion of their privacy, wrongful publicity of private facts, holding them out in a false light in the public eye and wrongful appropriation of facts about them for a commercial purpose. The trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of defendants. We affirm.

John W. Bisbee, Jr. and his wife Adelaide purchased a house in Ocean Township in January 1979. The sale had been arranged through a local real estate broker, John C. Conover, and his firm, the John C. Conover Agency, Inc. (Conover).

In July 1979 the Asbury Park Press (Press) printed an article on the sale accompanied by a photograph of the house. The article was captioned "Ocean Township Estate Sold for About $250,000," and appeared in the newspaper's weekly real estate section. It gave the property address, the number of rooms and described appointments within the house; John Bisbee was named as purchaser (omitting his wife), and John Bisbee's position as a bank vice-president was mentioned. The history of the building was noted, as well as the fact that the transaction had been consummated through Conover.

The photograph was taken without the knowledge of the Bisbees, and Conover had prepared the press release without consulting them.

Although other states and some New Jersey trial courts*fn1 have examined the various tort causes of action for invasion of privacy, see, generally, Prosser, Law of Torts (4 ed. 1971), § 117 at 802-818, these issues have not been closely scrutinized by our appellate courts.

I

Summary judgment is proper where there is no factual dispute. R. 4:46-2; Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 73-75 (1954). Although the general phrase, "invasion of privacy," has loosely been applied to all of the grounds for relief claimed by plaintiffs in their complaint, the first three counts are discussed together because they do not have to involve the element of a use of the information for defendant's advantage.

The Restatement of Torts lists the four areas of invasion of privacy as generally including (a) unreasonable intrusion, (b) appropriation of the other's name or likeness, (c) unreasonable publicity given to one's private life and (d) publicity that normally places the other in a false light before the public. 3 Restatement, Torts 2d, § 562A at 376 (1977). It defines the tort of invasion of privacy, which deals with unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another, as follows:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. [ Id., § 652B at 378]

As § 652B states, a person's liability attaches when plaintiff's privacy is infringed "physically or otherwise." Thus, while a physical, common law trespass might constitute an invasion of privacy, even lesser action without any physical contact or violation might give rise to the cause of action. In 3 ...


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