California Team Secures Appellate Victory on Behalf of Celebrity Comedian Kathy Griffin in Dispute with Bel Air Neighbor

Los Angeles, Calif. (July 7, 2021) - San Diego Appellate Partner Jeffry A. Miller, Indian Wells Appellate Partner Wendy S. Dowse, and Los Angeles Partners Dana Alden Fox and Michael Moss recently prevailed in an appeal from a judgment entered after the trial court granted Lewis Brisbois clients Kathy Griffin and Randy Bick, Jr.’s motion for summary adjudication of the plaintiffs’ causes of action for invasion of privacy and violation of California Penal Code section 632, which prohibits recording confidential communications.

As reported by Law360 in an article titled "Kathy Griffin Beats Calif. Neighbors' Backyard Spying Suit," and in a Bloomberg Law article titled "Comedian Kathy Griffin Beats Neighbor’s Invasion of Privacy Suit," the plaintiffs initially filed suit against Griffin and Bick, Jr. in 2018, alleging that their home security cameras recorded “every move and every communication” in the plaintiffs’ private backyard. They argued that the defendants' use of the security system invaded their privacy and violated California law. Prior to the lawsuit, Griffin and Bick, Jr. had made noise complaints about the plaintiffs to their homeowners' association and to the Los Angeles Police Department. The plaintiffs learned of the defendants' security cameras after a profane rant directed at the defendants and related to their noise complaint was recorded and reported in the media.

After the plaintiffs sued, the Lewis Brisbois team filed a motion for summary adjudication, contending that the cameras were installed to ensure the safety of Ms. Griffin, who is a public figure and had received death threats. The motion further explained that to the extent the security system had captured the plaintiffs' conversations, it was not intentional. In opposition, the plaintiffs submitted several recordings and expert testimony. In adjudicating the motion, the trial court held that the defendants' conduct had an “insubstantial impact on Plaintiffs’ privacy interests.” It also concluded that there was no evidence that the defendants' concerns about security were a pretext for surveilling their neighbors or listening to their private conversations. The plaintiffs then appealed.

A three-judge California Court of Appeals panel affirmed, reasoning, “[D]efendants provided evidence they had legitimate safety concerns because of Ms. Griffin’s status as a public figure and past death threats and stalking.” Contrary to the plaintiffs’ “hyperbole,” “[o]nly a small portion of the plaintiffs’ backyard could be seen in the videos, plaintiffs and their guests could barely be seen, if at all, and the content of their conversations could not be discerned. What few words and phrases could be understood were clearly spoken at elevated volumes, which plaintiffs could not reasonably expect to remain private in an outdoor residential setting, with neighbors nearby.”

Mr. Miller told Law360 that he was pleased with the court's decision, noting, "Individuals should be able to protect themselves with security devices, such as home surveillance cameras, without fear of untoward privacy-based lawsuits."

You may access the full Law360 article here (subscription may be required) and the Bloomberg Law article here (subscription may be required).

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