Invasion of Privacy Claim Reinstated on Appeal in Suit Between Massachusetts Neighbors: Polay v. McMahon

We all know that life seems to flow a little more easily when we get along with our neighbors. Unfortunately, that is not always possible. At the Law Office of John C. Manoog, we have handled many cases between neighbors in which the issue was an injury to a child, a dog bite, or a fall on a neighbor’s property.

Neighbors File Suit Alleging Invasion of Privacy and Other Claims

In a recent lawsuit between neighbors, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that two neighbors had stated a claim for invasion of privacy against each other. In the case of Polay v. McMahon, the parties lived across the street from each other. As a result of an ongoing, escalating dispute between the neighbors, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging abuse of process, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy.

The defendant filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court pursuant to Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and a special motion to dismiss under the SLAPP statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 59H. The trial court allowed the motion to dismiss as to all claims, as well as the special motion to dismiss with respect to the abuse of process and malicious prosecution claims. The special motion was denied as to the other three claims. The defendant then successfully requested costs and attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the invasion of privacy claim, the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, and the award of attorney’s fees.

The Issues Considered on Appeal

According to the plaintiffs, the defendant had installed several video cameras in his house. The cameras were pointed at the plaintiffs’ home, and one of them was able to see into the plaintiffs’ windows. These cameras recorded the plaintiffs’ actions on a continuous basis. On appeal, the court considered whether this activity by the defendant constituted an invasion of privacy as alleged by the plaintiffs.

What the Court Held on Appeal

The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the invasion of privacy claim, holding that the plaintiffs had made out a plausible claim for invasion of privacy. To sustain a claim for invasion of privacy under Massachusetts law, a plaintiff must show that the invasion was both unreasonable and substantial or serious. In determining whether a legitimate claim exists, the courts balance the extent to which a defendant violated a plaintiff’s privacy interests against any legitimate purpose the defendant may have had for the intrusion.

Under the facts of the case, the court found that the defendant’s alleged motive to harass the plaintiffs converted his video surveillance of the interior of the plaintiffs’ home into an unreasonable intrusion into their privacy. In so holding, the court rejected the defendant’s claim that he installed the video cameras merely for his own security.

The court found no error in the trial judge’s dismissal of the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. On remand, the trial court was ordered to reconsider the attorney fee amount in light of the decision of the appeals court.

What to Do If You Need Help With a Suit Against a Neighbor

While the situation in this case was unique, disputes between neighbors do sometimes arise. If you need to speak to an attorney concerning a premises liability accident or injury that you have suffered due to a neighbor’s carelessness, the Law Firm of John C. Manoog will be happy to discuss your case. We offer a free initial consultation. Call us today at 888-262-6664 or via our online contact form.

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