Detectives Did Not Violate Privacy of Husband by Suggesting That Suspicious Wife Put GPS in Husband’s Vehicle to Track His Travels

Villanova v. Innovative Investigations, Inc., 420 N.J. Super. 353 (App. Div. 2011).  A wife suspected her husband of infidelity.  She consulted defendant private detectives, who suggested that she place a GPS tracking device in her husband’s vehicle to track his movements.  The husband sued for divorce, and included claims against the wife and the detectives for invasion of privacy.  The claims against the detectives were dismissed and reserved for separate litigation.  The husband later waived the privacy claim against the wife as part of the final resolution of the divorce case.  This decision, written by Judge Lisa, affirms summary judgment in favor of the detectives in the subsequent lawsuit.

The opinion contains a good summary of some basic principles of the law of privacy.  Judge Lisa passed over the question of whether the mere suggestion by the detectives that the wife install the GPS could violate plaintiff’s privacy.  Assuming that it could, the panel found that there was no invasion of privacy since plaintiff did not drive to any non-public locations while the GPS was in place.

Quoting a United States Supreme Court case, Judge Lisa stated that “[a] person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his [or her] movements from one place to another.”  Similarly, the Restatement (Second) of Torts, says that there is no privacy claim for observing, or even photographing, someone while “walking on a public highway, since he [or she] is not then in seclusion, and his [or her] appearance is public and open to the public eye.”  The fact that plaintiff might have driven to somewhere private was irrelevant, since he did not in fact do so.