No Claim Based on Perez Hilton’s Publication of Unsolicited but Inflammatory Reader Email – Wargo v. Lavandeira
[Post by Venkat Balasubramani]
Wargo v. Lavandeira, JAMS Arbitration No. 1220041183 (Mar. 24, 2013)
Lavandeira runs the popular Perez Hilton website, which has been involved in its fair share of legal disputes.
In response to an item (presumably about Angelina Jolie—the dispute stems from an event in 2007!) posted by Perez, Wargo sent him the following email:
Perez you are a FAT GAY PIG! Angelina is a ugly whore! You love her because she is a Fag lover! Your brother is a gay little jerk just like your fat ugly ass! MANGELINA is a disgusting gross skank.
The subject line of the email read: “I Hate Skankelina the Homewrecker.” The opinion does not disclose any facts indicating that Wargo and Lavendeira had a business or other relationship. [What would prompt a stranger to send such an animated email to Perez left me scratching my head, but to each her own, I guess.]
Perez promptly published the email, along with Ms. Wargo’s email address. Unfortunately for Ms. Wargo, she had sent the above email using her work email address. As a result, executives at the company she worked at “received a flood of angry emails protesting [Ms. Wargo’s] comments.” Wargo’s employer turned around and fired her.
The dispute raised the question of whether Lavandeira’s publication of the email violated the terms of PerezHiton.com website.
respects [the] privacy [of end users] and is committed to protecting it at all times.
The arbitrator also says that even if the policy somehow safeguarded her information, her breach of contract claim fails for causation. She was fired from her job for violating her employer’s network usage policy, and not for anything Lavandeira did. As a bonus, the court says that her own unclean hands also prevent her recovery.
Wargo brought a variety of other claims, including an invasion of privacy claim, and the arbitrator easily rejects these as well. She had no expectation of privacy in the material she submitted (including her name):
it is not reasonable for a visitor to a gossip website to expect privacy for gossipy submissions.
For similar reasons, Wargo’s claim for outrage and fraud fail as well.
This case is somewhat reminiscent of Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel and of course the recently concluded Hoang v. IMDb cases. Both long, drawn out battles involving privacy claims that went to juries where plaintiffs were awarded nothing. (In Moreno, the sole remaining claim that went to a jury was an infliction of emotional distress/outrage claim; still it was privacy-based.) Maybe the takeaway is that damages are tough to prove in these types of situations? If you voluntary put the information out there, it’s tough to muster up jury sympathy based on misuse of the information, at least where there are no clear restrictions in place?
It’s tempting to chalk this up to another loss for privacy plaintiffs but the claims here were unmoored from any sense of what the average person would find actionable. Perhaps I’m biased as a blogger, but it’s unreasonable to think that a blogger won’t share an unsolicited email, particularly one that is so inflammatory. Doubly unreasonable when that blogger is Perez Hilton!