(CN) – CBS did not intrude upon a couple’s privacy when it videotaped them swimming in a friend’s backyard without their consent, even though it later broadcast the video, a federal judge ruled.
Robert Webb’s sister-in-law Lisa Stebic disappeared from her house in April 2007. Webb’s brother, Craig Stebic, who was in the process of divorcing his wife, was named as a person of interest by the local police.
During the following month, reporters from many different news organizations came to the Stebics’ home to report on the continuing search for Lisa Stebic.
Amy Jacobson, a reporter for Chicago’s NBC station WMAQ, took a personal interest in the matter and established a rapport with the Robert and Jill Webb. She spoke with Craig Stebic in person and visited the Stebic home. Based on Jacobson’s interest in the case, Webb and Stebic jointly invited Jacobson and her children to visit the Stebics’ home on July 6, 2007, the day before a planned community-wide search for Lisa Stebic, to discuss her disappearance.
The same day, Michael Puccinelli, a CBS reporter assigned to Chicago television station WBBM, arrived hoping to interview a Stebic family member about the community-wide search for Stebic scheduled for the following day. The reporter rang the doorbell, but Robert Webb told him the family did not wish to speak to him.
Puccinelli then went to a neighbor’s house and obtained permission to videotape the activities in the Stebics’ backyard. The videotape, subsequently aired on a CBS broadcast, showed Craig Stebic, the Webbs and their children, and Jacobson and her children around the swimming pool.
Jill and Robert Webb filed a lawsuit against CBS alleging intrusion upon seclusion and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In July 2011, CBS filed a motion for summary judgment.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve granted CBS’s motion and dismissed the case in its entirety.
The court found that the Webbs did not try to keep their activities hidden and could not maintain an expectation of privacy.
“Although it is undisputed that the Webbs did not consent to having their conduct videotaped on July 6, 2007, uncontested evidence in the record establishes that their activities at the Stebics’ swimming pool and backyard were in plain view, and thus not secluded,” the court found.
“Further, there is undisputed evidence in the record that the videotape could have been made from the public sidewalk or public street because the Stebics’ backyard was visible to the public from many vantage points,” St. Eve continued.
The judge also found that CBS’s conduct was not extreme enough to cause the Webbs severe distress. “Even though Puccinelli’s conduct in videotaping Craig Stebic and his guests at the Stebics’ pool was unwelcome, this conduct is not so outrageous that it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency,” the judgment said.
Additionally, St. Eve ruled that the Webbs could not establish that Puccinelli intended to inflict severe emotional distress upon them. “Facts in the record clearly establish that Puccinelli videotaped the Stebics’ backyard because Craig Stebic was there, not because the Webbs and their children were in the backyard,” she concluded.