Media Law Handbook



8. What legal rules govern false light cases?
6. Trespass cases

7. Exceeding the scope of consent or invitation

Courts have upheld invasion of privacy claims in some cases in which media representatives have exceeded the scope of express or implied consent granted by the plaintiff.  In one of the best known of these cases, an intrusion claim was upheld against a television station whose camera crew burst into a restaurant with cameras rolling and television lights ablaze, disrupting the patrons’ meals and causing several of them to flee.[43]  The court held that although the television station had a legitimate right to report about the restaurant’s inclusion on a list of establishments that violated the New York City sanitation code, the camera crew was unnecessarily intrusive because it entered without any intention of purchasing food and had unreasonably disrupted the restaurant’s customers.[44]

In another well-known case, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld nominal verdicts for trespass and breach of duty of loyalty claims against two ABC News producers who carried out a “hidden camera” investigation of a North Carolina-based supermarket chain.[45]  In Food Lion v. Capital Cities/ABC, the producers falsified their work histories to obtain jobs in three Food Lion stores.  The reporters secretly videotaped what appeared to be questionable food-handling practices, and the tapes later were aired on the news magazine "PrimeTime Live."

Food Lion did not sue ABC for libel but instead for violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, ownership of ABC’s copyright in the broadcast, fraud, breach of the duty of loyalty, trespass and unfair and deceptive trade practices.  Early on, the trial court dismissed the RICO and copyright claims but ultimately allowed Food Lion’s other claims to be decided by a jury.  After a three-stage trial, the jury awarded Food Lion $1,400 in compensatory damages on the fraud claim, $1 each on the duty of loyalty and trespass claims and $5,545,750 in punitive damages.  The trial court reduced the punitive damage award related to fraud to $315,000.  

Upon appeal by both Food Lion and ABC, the Fourth Circuit overturned the jury’s damages award on fraud, saying Food Lion had not proved all of the elements necessary to maintain the verdict.  The Fourth Circuit did, however, uphold the breach of the duty of loyalty award of $1 in a narrow holding.  The court indicated that the reporters’ pursuit of two jobs (one for Food Lion and one for ABC) that were diametrically opposed in purpose breached their common law duty of loyalty to Food Lion.  The court also upheld the jury’s verdict of $1 for trespass, not because the reporters misrepresented their experience to gain access to non-public areas of Food Lion’s stores but because the reporters exceeded the scope of their permission and duty of loyalty by filming in non-public areas.


[43] Le Mistral, Inc. v. CBS, 402 N.Y.S.2d 815 (App. Div. 1978).

[44] Id. at 816-17.

[45] Food Lion v. Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., 194 F.3d 505 (4th Cir.1999).

8. What legal rules govern false light cases?
6. Trespass cases

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