Court decision: Minnesotans enjoy legal right to privacy

ST. PAUL (AP) — In a groundbreaking decision, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Minnesotans have a legal right to privacy.
“Today we join the majority of jurisdictions and recognize the tort of invasion of privacy,” wrote Chief Judge Kathleen Blatz on behalf of the 5-2 majority. Only North Dakota and Wyoming don’t recognize the right to privacy.
The ruling comes in the case of two Clay County women who objected to the circulation of a nude picture a friend took of them, but its implications extend well beyond their lawsuit into the realm of media law and First Amendment rights.
Elli Lake and Melissa Weber, students at Moorhead State University, brought the lawsuit last year against Wal-Mart and an unidentified employee at the retailer’s Dilworth store who developed and circulated the photo from several rolls of vacation pictures they dropped off for processing.
The women claimed Wal-Mart “repeatedly and unreasonably invaded (their) seclusion, appropriated their likeness, published (their) private lives and placed them in a false light before the public.” They said they “were humiliated, embarrassed and suffered emotional and mental distress.”
Their claim was dismissed by the district court and Court of Appeals because Minnesota had never before awarded damages for invasion of privacy.
Without deciding whether the women’s claim is valid, the court said they should have an opportunity to pursue their case.
“The right to privacy is an integral part of our humanity,” Blatz wrote. “One has a public persona, exposed and active, and a private persona, guarded and preserved. The heart of our liberty is choosing which parts of our lives shall become public and which parts we shall hold close.”
Justices Esther Tomljanovich and Edward Stringer dissented from the majority, noting there is no constitutional basis for a right to privacy.
“We have become a much more litigious society since 1975, when we acknowledged that we have never recognized a cause of action for invasion of privacy. We should be even more reluctant now to recognize a new tort,” Tomljanovich wrote in her dissent.
The Legislature has several times rejected passing a law that would allow claims for invasion of privacy.
Much of the opposition to those efforts came from news organizations worried about their exposure to litigation.
“It’s going to create far more harm than it’s going to eliminate,” said Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association. “While invasion of privacy is a bad thing in the abstract … in practice these lawsuits tend to be exercises in futility.”
A vast majority of invasion of privacy cases get thrown out, but until they are they can cost thousands of dollars to defend, Anfinson said. The threat of frivolous-but-costly lawsuits might discourage news organizations from aggressive reporting, he said.
Whether a floodgate of litigation follows depends on how the lower courts interpret the Supreme Court’s mandate.