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Court allows trespass claim over videotaping to go to trial

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  1. Libel and Privacy
MINNESOTA--The state Court of Appeals in St. Paul in mid-October affirmed a lower court decision finding that a Minneapolis-St. Paul…

MINNESOTA–The state Court of Appeals in St. Paul in mid-October affirmed a lower court decision finding that a Minneapolis-St. Paul television station may be liable for fraud and trespass after a station employee shot hidden camera footage of a residential care facility and its patients while working as a volunteer at the home.

Special Force Family Ministries sued the station after it broadcast an investigative segment alleging staff at residential homes serving the mentally disabled forgot to feed residents and administer medication correctly. The segment included footage taken by the WCCO volunteer.

The appellate court ruled that if the television station employee, by secretly videotaping Special Force employees, exceeded the scope of the consent the facility gave her to be on the property when it hired her as a volunteer, her continuing presence became “unpermitted and unlawful.”

The employee gained access to the facility by applying for a volunteer position with the residential care facility. When applying, the WCCO worker said she was unemployed and listed false references. Neither the woman nor her references disclosed that she was an employee of the television station or that she was going to use a hidden camera to tape in the home.

Claims of fraud committed by WCCO and its employees involved with the investigative story must also go to trial, the court found. The station deliberately misled Special Force by making the misrepresentations, according to the court. Had the residential care facility workers known the person applying for the volunteer position was a television station employee, the home would not have chosen her to work at the facility, the court noted.

The station’s attorney said the station has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision. (Special Force Ministries v. WCCO Television; Media Counsel: John P. Borger, Minneapolis)