The Volokh Conspiracy

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Publishing Court Records Containing Home Address Not Actionable Invasion of Privacy

A district court decision from several years ago, which I just ran across.


From Eng v. Cushing , 2014 WL 12885295 (E.D.N.Y. 2014):

Eng's solitary gripe in these cases is that defendants have publicly reproduced copies of some of the many frivolous civil action complaints filed by him in recent months. These complaints and accompanying cover sheets are, of course, official court documents, and matters of public record. As is expected in a court filing, Eng's address—as well as the mailing addresses of those he has attempted to sue—appears on the face of these court documents. That defendants have distributed copies of these documents in the media is a practice that is by no means unusual or a violation of Eng's right to privacy. Put simply, he has no privacy interest in such publicly-accessible records. Cox Broad. Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469, 493-96 (1975) (newspaper not liable for publishing public information found in official court records); Doe v. City of New York, 15 F.3d 264, 268 (2d Cir. 1994 ("Certainly, there is no question that an individual cannot expect to have a constitutionally protected privacy interest in matters of public record.").

In short, it was not defendants that thrust Eng's home address into the public record: it was Eng, himself, and he has done so repeatedly. Defendants, by merely reproducing Eng's court filings and reporting on his legal antics, have committed no impropriety, and plaintiff can state no claim against them on those grounds.

This question arises occasionally, so I thought I'd flag this decision, which I think is indeed dictated by Supreme Court precedent. (Whether the legal system should make it easier for people to sue and be sued without having their addresses included in court records is a separate matter.)

UPDATE: Ken White (Popehat) had an interesting (and sad) piece on the plaintiff's backstory; much worth reading, though not directly legally relevant.