Freidman v Martinez, 454 N.J. Super. 87, 184 A.3d 489 (App. Div. 2018), certification granted, 2019 WL 192688 (N.J. 2019)

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In a case centered on the right to privacy, more than 60 women filed a lawsuit claiming that their privacy was invaded when defendant Teodoro Martinez, a janitor employed by a defendant facilities service management company and working in a building owned and managed by two other corporate defendants, installed hidden surveillance equipment in the women's restroom. After a recording device was recovered from the restroom, police questioned Martinez and allegedly found approximately eight hours of recordings of numerous women. Martinez was criminally indicted but fled the country. The corporate defendants moved for summary judgment, seeking to dismiss the claims of 35 plaintiffs whose images were not in the eight hours of footage seized by police. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, ruling that the plaintiffs were required to show that there was a recording device present when they used the restroom and that each woman’s image was in the recovered footage.

In reversing the grant of summary judgment, the Appellate Division noted that the tort of breach of privacy merely required intrusion into a place of solitude or seclusion that a reasonable person would find highly offensive. The court rejected the trial court’s conclusion that only a person who could prove that his or her image was captured during such an intrusion could maintain a cause of action. Further, the court held that to require such proof would provide inadequate protection to people’s “peace of mind” and “expectation of privacy,” and would provide too much leeway to intruders who could minimize their liability simply by removing or deactivating hidden recording devices.

The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification and Pashman Stein Walder Hayden filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ). The ACLU-NJ asked the court to affirm the Appellate Division’s decision, arguing that the placement of the surreptitious camera in a location where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, especially a bathroom stall, violates privacy interests and warrants sending the case to a jury for a consideration of damages. Further, ACLU-NJ argued that forcing the women to view hours of video footage containing the images of women inside a stall using the restroom in order to establish a claim was itself traumatizing and that future plaintiffs should not be subjected to such a re-traumatizing standard of proof where there is otherwise sufficient evidence in the record to permit an inference that the plaintiffs were in the restroom while the hidden camera was there. Finally, ACLU-NJ asked the court to adopt a legal standard that reflects the realities of the modern world, arguing that landlords, managers, and building service providers owe a duty to tenants and visitors to protect them from reasonably foreseeable harm, and that it is reasonably foreseeable in the modern world that those who have access to restroom facilities may place hidden cameras there—indeed, legal scholars have been discussing this risk for decades.

The case is currently pending in the New Jersey Supreme Court, with a decision expected in 2020.

Press Coverage

Building Owner Fights Liability for Peeping Janitor | CourtHouse News Service | January 21, 2020

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