Thursday, April 15, 2010
S.C. Declines to Review Decision on Death Photos on Internet
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday declined to block the family of an 18-year-old Orange County woman who died in a vehicle collision from suing two California Highway Patrol officers who allegedly leaked grisly photos of the crash that ended up on the Internet.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, denied review of a Feb. 1 ruling by Div. Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal that Nicole Catsouras’ family members had a common law privacy interest, subject to certain limits, in images of her mutilated corpse.
Chief Justice Ronald George was absent, and did not participate.
Catsouras was decapitated on Halloween in 2006 when the Porsche 911 she was driving at close to 100 miles per hour clipped another vehicle, tumbled over a median and smashed into a concrete tollbooth.
Two CHP officers who responded to the scene, Thomas O’Donnell and Aaron Reich, allegedly e-mailed nine graphic photos of Catsouras’ lifeless body to friends unrelated to their investigation the same day for “shock value.”
The images spread virally to more than 2,500 websites on the Internet, and users at large sent Catsouras’ family taunting e-mails containing the photographs.
The family sued the officers and the CHP for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, but Orange Superior Court Judge Steven L. Perk dismissed, finding no duty on behalf of the officers to the family and no basis for a federal civil rights suit.
The Court of Appeal reversed as to the state law claims in an opinion by Justice Eileen C. Moore, who wrote that the officers and the CHP owed the family “a duty of care not to place [Catsouras’] death images on the Internet for the purposes of vulgar spectacle.”
The Supreme Court yesterday also rejected a request by the CHP to depublish the Court of Appeal’s opinion.
The case is Catsouras v. California Highway Patrol, S180881.
In other news, the justices yesterday:
•Declined to review a Dec. 30 ruling by this district’s Div. One allowing consumer interest interveners to obtain compensation for taking part in the administrative process when an insurance company seeks to increase rates, even if the matter never reaches a formal rate hearing.
The ruling rejected a group of insurers’ challenge to regulatory changes pushed in 2006 by Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who sought to change the definition of a “proceeding” so that those who made a substantial contribution could obtain compensation in the event the matter was settled or withdrawn.
The case is Association of California Insurance Companies v. Poizner, S180126.
•Agreed to review the Sixth District’s Dec. 22 ruling in People v. Barrett, S180612, that due process and equal protection do not require a court to affirmatively advise someone proposed to be committed under Welfare and Institutions Code Sec. 6500—as a “person mentally retarded” and a danger to his or her self and others—of the right to a jury trial.
Reasoning that commitment proceedings are civil in nature, the Court of Appeal held that the right to a jury trial can be waived as in civil proceedings generally by the failure to request a jury.
•Granted a request to review a decision by this district’s Div. One that the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act preempts claims under the California Medical Information Act based on a debt collector’s alleged disclosure of confidential medical information to consumer reporting agencies.
The case is Brown v. Mortensen, S180862.
•Declined disbarred attorney Richard I. Fine’s request for a writ of habeas corpus. Fine has been confined to the Twin Towers jail since being held in contempt March 4 of last year by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe.
Yaffe ordered Fine jailed for as long as he refuses to respond to questions asked at a judgment debtor examination, and jailed for five days for holding himself out as entitled to practice law after being placed on involuntary inactive status by the State Bar Court.
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