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Choosing forum for invasion of privacy lawsuit (federal diversity jurisdiction)

Eau Claire, WI |
Filed under: Litigation

I am planning on filing suit against owners/operators of the "mugshot industry" under the premise that they invaded my privacy (unwarranted intrusion), and I believe federal court may be the best option as this is going to involve three defendants from other states (perhaps all Florida). I figure I can reasonably request more than $75,000 and would probably ask for $250,000 from each defendant. I have a paralegal certificate, and am determined to do something about this as it has caused me immeasurable loss so far. I'm not going to pay their extortion. I tried to make a criminal case out of it- wrote the FBI and explained how the actions of these companies represents racketeering activity. I have also thought about civil RICO but the pleading requirements are too strict, any thoughts?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Best answer

    So you have a paralegal certificate and you think you have a valid claim for invasion of privacy against persons who published your mugshot. You obviously need more legal training. There is this pesky constitutional provision called the First Amendment. Mug Shots or persons who were arrested and/or convicted are public documents. If you were arrested and/or convicted, and if your mug shot is publicly available, this is a public record that records an actual and truthful fact--that you were either arrested or convicted. If someone published a list of persons who had been arrested for DUI, as long as the list is accurate, no one could possibly complain about the fact that his name appears on this list. The same is true for lists and photographs of registered sex offenders. The same is true for mug shots. Do they have the potential for harming your reputation. You bet!! Do you have a claim based on this harm---no way. Is it illegal for companies to accept fees in exchange for removing your photo from its published collection of mug-shots? Clearly not.

    Here is your problem----a mug shot was taken of you. It is available from sources on line. You do not own the copyright in the mug-shot---the copyright is owned by whoever took the photograph and/or the governmental authority who paid him. Thus, you have no legal right to limit its use and distribution. It is a true picture that reflects an unfortunate but real event that occurred in your life. Guess what--you have no claim for invasion of privacy---you have no right to keep private your arrest and conviction history---including mug shots.

    The only potential claim would be for violation of your right of publicity. But this will not fly because the mug shot companies are not suggesting that you endorse their products---they simply publish mug shots of persons who were arrestee and/or convicted.

    Indeed, my view is that your claims would be frivolous. I suspect that very few lawyers would be willing to pursue such claims---I would be worried that I would face Rule 11 Sanctions if I would do so.

    Also, even if you could somehow conjure up a valid claim, your assertion as to damages seems to be absurdly high. You cannot just make up a number---you have to have evidence of actual economic harm. It is far from clear that you could prove actual economic harm from publication of this mug-shot. You say it has caused "immeasurable loss" but in court, you have to provide evidence that can be verified and quantified---not mere speculation.

    And you also have to show that the proximate cause of your loss is publication of the mug shot---and it is probably impossible for you to satisfy this requirement. The proximate cause of your loss was your arrest or conviction---not the mug short which merely records something that happened to you. People get charged with crimes--often incorrectly. And the taint of being charged with a crime often has adverse consequences, even if the charges or dropped or you are acquitted at trial. Life is unfair, but that does not always give rise to legal claims.

  2. You have a long and difficult challenge ahead of you. Federal court is no place for pro per litigation and RICO is difficult even for highly experienced legal specialists. If your potential claim is sound, you should be able to find skilled counsel who will accept the case on contingency and that is your best course. If you cannot find a skilled and experienced attorney (federal litigator) who will take the case on contingency, you should consider that a consensus that you are unlikely to prevail.

    My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

  3. The following link to an article which appeared not too long ago in Wired Magazine, regarding the online-mugshot industry, may be of some value to you.

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