Fisher v. Communications Workers of America, 2008 NCBC 18 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 30, 2008).
The North Carolina Business Court decided today the first published opinion under North Carolina’s Identity Theft Protection Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. §75-60 et seq. The case, Fisher v. Communications Workers of America, also involves an interesting invasion of privacy issue.
The Plaintiffs were members of the CWA, working for AT&T at various locations. A representative of the Union posted a notice on a bulletin board at one job site which contained the social security numbers of all the Plaintiffs.
This led to three claims by the Plaintiffs: that this violated the North Carolina Identity Theft Protection Act, that it was an unfair and deceptive practice, and that it was an invasion of privacy.
The Act specifically provides that a business may not "Intentionally communicate or otherwise make available to the general public an individual’s social security number." N.C. Gen. Stat. §75-62(a)(1). Defendants argued that the list posted on the bulletin board had not been seen by the "general public" and that it had not been posted there in order to facilitate identity theft. The Defendants also argued that the bulletin board was used for "internal verification or administrative purposes," and that the posting was therefore exempt under N.C. Gen. Stat. §75-62(b)(2).
Judge Diaz rejected these defenses. He held that the Act does not require that the general public actually see the social security numbers in order for there to be a violation. He also held that the communication of the social security numbers does not need to be made either for the purpose of providing them to the general public or for the purpose of facilitating identity theft. And as to the "bulletin board defense," Judge Diaz held that this presented a question of fact which could not be resolved on a motion to dismiss.
The Motion as to the unfair and deceptive practice claim was also denied, mainly because the Act provides that “[a] violation of [section 75-62 of the North Carolina General Statutes] is a violation of [the UDTPA].” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-62(d) (2007).
The Court did grant the Motion to Dismiss on the invasion of privacy claim, however. It held that the posting of the social security numbers was "not the type of ‘intentional intrusion, "physically or otherwise,"’ necessary to state a claim for invasion of privacy by intrusion into seclusion." It held that this tort requires "a physical or sensory intrusion or an unauthorized prying into confidential personal records."
The Court also rejected the argument that the posting on the bulletin board could make out an invasion of privacy claim because it was a "public disclosure of private facts." The Court relied on Hall v. Post, 323 N.C. 259, 265–70, 372 S.E.2d 711, 714–17 (1988), in which the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the tort does not encompass claims which involve the publication of true but private facts.