A married but separated Iowa couple continues to have a right to bedroom privacy. When one spouse surreptitious videotapes the other in her bedroom the privacy rights are actionable. (Dubuque County Case ID: 01311 CDDM012319) According to the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision Cathy and Jeff separated with Cathy remaining in the marital home. Jeffrey surreptitiously installed recording equipment and recorded Cathy’s activities during the marriage in the marital home. The District Court found the videotaping occurred when the “parties were separated and residing in separated residences.” The Supreme Court didn’t believe the record sufficiently clear to determine if Jeff installed the equipment previous to moving out to a separate residence; nevertheless did not believe it was relevant for a finding in this case.

The Court stated: “The long relationship between Jeffrey and Cathy Tigges was plagued by trust issues. Even before their marriage, Jeffrey and Cathy had recorded each other’s telephone conversations without the other’s knowledge and consent. Apparently undeterred by their history of discord, they were married on December 31, 1999.”

The decision discusses a video cassette recorder positioned above the ceiling, a camera concealed in an alarm clock located in the bedroom regularly used by Cathy, and a motion sensing “optical eye” installed in headboard of the bed in that room.” The District Court found Jeffrey had invaded Cathy’s privacy and entered judgment in the amount of $22,500.00.  Jeffrey on appeal argued the judgment must be reversed because Cathy had no reasonable expectation of privacy that would preclude Jeff from recording in the marital home.

The invasion of privacy claim was tried in the dissolution action.

It’s pretty clear the Court finds married spouses even during the marriage, and while living in the same residence could be found to violate the other’s right to privacy if electronic equipment is used to record activity.

This is a case of first impression in Iowa but one that has been decided in North Carolina finding estranged spouses living separately have an expectation of privacy between themselves.  (Miller v. Brooks, 472 S.E.2d 350 (N.C. Ct. App 1996)) And also Clayton v. Richards, 47 S.W.3d 149 (Tex. App. 2001) Even during a marriage the bedroom carries with it an expectation of privacy.

However, the videotaping of a person without consent or awareness when there is an expectation of privacy goes beyond the rights of a spouse because it may record private matters, which could later be exposed to the public eye. The fact that no later exposure occurs does not negate that potential and permit willful intrusion by such technological means into one’s personal life in one’s bedroom.

The Court found the content of the tape recordings was not the determinative factor about whether the one tortuously invaded the other’s privacy.

The Court noted under Iowa law, Iowa Code section 614.1 (2) the statute of limitations is 2 years.  The statute begins to run at the last invasive event.

Breaking up is awfully hard to do.

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