The reality police television show "Cops" did not intrude on a Florida woman's privacy when her interactions with police during a traffic stop were recorded without her knowledge, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in Spilfogel v. Fox Broadcasting Company.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.) upheld a lower court's order dismissing Arlene Spilfogel's complaint against Fox Broadcasting Co., Langley Productions Inc. and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. after she was recorded on a public street and later broadcast on the television show.
Spilfogel claimed the defendants invaded her privacy through the public disclosure of private facts and intrusion upon her seclusion.
However, the courts agreed that recording interactions with police during a traffic stop on a public street cannot give rise to either cause of action.
The broadcast of "eccentric reactions and behavior in stressful situations" does not amount to the publication of private facts that are offensive and not of public concern, according to the appellate court. These facts include revelations that Spilfogel was upset with her daughter, kept her cell phone in a plastic bag and had a trunk full of donation items that were not accepted as aid to hurricane victims.
"Spilfogel offers very little explanation for why any reasonable juror could deem their revelation offensive," the appeals court said.
Spilfogel relied on a California case, Baugh v. CBS, for support, claiming it was "strikingly similar" to her own. In Baugh, the court ruled a woman's privacy was invaded after she called to report a domestic violence incident and was recorded in her home as she spoke of "deeply personal information regarding her marriage and health."
The appellate court in Spilfogel's case said "the facts of the two cases could hardly be more different."
"Spilfogel trivializes the difference between a conversation about the specifics of an instance of domestic violence and a conversation about traffic violations," the ruling said.
Spilfogel's allegation that the defendants intruded upon her seclusion failed because she could not prove that a public street is a private place in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, as required by Florida law governing the tort, according to the court.
"Florida law explicitly requires an intrusion into a private place and not merely into a private activity. Spilfogel voluntarily placed herself in a public place where she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy," it held.