No Privacy Claim For Officer Whose Disciplinary Records Were Released To Press

Donald J. Huston is a police officer employed by the Meriden, Connecticut Police Department. In April 2011, the City released information from Huston’s personnel file to the press during an interview with reporters of the local newspaper. Among the items released was a letter of reprimand Huston received in 2007. Huston alleged that the letter should have been removed from the personnel file after two years, but never was. The City also disclosed to the gathered reporters that Huston was arrested in 2007, although the arrest was later dismissed.

Huston sued the City, alleging that the information was not subject to disclosure and was an invasion of personal privacy. A Connecticut trial court ruled that the release of the information did not violate Huston’s right to privacy.

There are four categories of lawsuits for invasion of privacy: (1) An unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another; (b) an appropriation of the other’s name or likeness; (c) unreasonable publicity given to the other’s private life; or (d) publicity that unreasonably places the other in a false light before the public. Huston argued that the City’s disclosure of his information fell in the first category, and was an “unreasonable intrusion on his seclusion.”

The Court rejected Huston’s claim because “the crux of the tort of intrusion upon seclusion is the manner of the invasion, not the subsequent dissemination resulting from it. It is the intrusion itself, not the publication, which makes a party subject to liability for this tort. Huston does not contend that the method of obtaining the information was objectionable. At best, Huston is contending that the manner of the intrusion in this action was the opening of the file, and reading aloud of its contents.

“Thus, Huston is not objecting to the manner in which the information was disseminated, but the fact that the information was disclosed to the press, thereby publicizing Huston’s personnel information and causing anxiety and distress. This Court finds that the City’s conduct does not rise to the level of invasion typically found in violations of this tort.”

Huston also argued that the release of his file amounted to “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” The Court disagreed, finding that the City’s conduct was not “extreme and outrageous enough” to be the basis for a lawsuit. The Court recited the rule that there is only “liability for conduct exceeding all bounds usually tolerated by decent society, of a nature which is especially calculated to cause, and does cause, mental distress of a very serious kind. Conduct on the part of the defendant that is merely insulting or displays bad manners or results in hurt feelings is insufficient to form the basis for an action based upon intentional infliction of emotional distress. The behavior of the City may have been an attempt to harass Huston through the intermediary of the press, but it does not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous such that a claim sounding in intentional infliction of emotional distress may be sustained.”

Huston v. Cossette, 2015 WL 601216 (Conn. Super. 2015).