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TURNER v. GOVERNMENT EMPLES. FIN. CORP.

December 6, 1972

William S. TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES FINANCIAL CORPORATION, Defendant


Weber, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

This is a diversity action alleging an invasion of privacy and interference with plaintiff's employment rights. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that he became delinquent to the extent of three monthly payments to defendant on an installment loan contract, and that the defendant sent letters to plaintiff's employer (the United States Internal Revenue Service) advising it of the plaintiff's delinquency. (While plaintiff's complaint and brief recite letters, the evidentiary materials display only one letter).

 Plaintiff asserts that this is an invasion of his right of privacy and that defendant's action was an unreasonable interference with that right because it was an attempt to bring the pressure of the federal government to bear on him and to force payment of the debt.

 Plaintiff alleges damages involving emotional distress and possible interference with his future employment prospects.

 Defendant has moved to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 for failure of the complaint to state a cause of action, and for failure to meet the required jurisdictional minimum. Evidentiary materials in support of and in opposition to the motion have been submitted and, therefore, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 we treat this as a motion for summary judgment.

 Although this is a diversity action, controlled by the law of Pennsylvania, we have not only examined the Pennsylvania cases but also reported cases from other jurisdictions covering this cause of action. This cause of action is of recent historical growth and the text writers and the opinions of other jurisdictions give some guidance in the matter.

 No Pennsylvania case and none from any other jurisdiction has held that a communication from a creditor to a debtor's employer informing him of the debtor's default, delinquency or failure to pay a debt constitutes an unreasonable invasion of the creditor's privacy. In fact cases from various jurisdictions have specifically rejected such a communication as the basis of a cause of action for invasion of privacy. In Cunningham v. Securities Investment Co. of St. Louis, 278 F.2d 600 [5th Cir. 1960] the court affirmed the granting of a summary judgment in a case involving invasion of privacy where the creditor placed one telephone call to the debtor's doctors. The court said:

 
". . . [A] creditor has a right to take reasonable, that is non-oppressive, action to pursue his debtor and persuade payment, although the steps taken may result in actual but not actionable invasion of the debtor's privacy." (P. 604)

 While the Restatement Torts, Vol. 4, Sec. 867 [1939] defines the cause of action for invasion of privacy as "A person who unreasonably and seriously interferes with another's interest in not having his affairs known to others or his likeness exhibited to the public is liable to the other" the text writers have limited this somewhat. In Prosser, Law of Torts [3d ed. 1963] invasion of privacy is more limited:

 In Household Finance Corp. v. Bridge, 252 Md. 531, 250 A.2d 878 [1969] the court reversed a jury verdict for the plaintiff and entered judgment for the defendant stating that two or three telephone calls to the debtor's employer was not enough to constitute an invasion of privacy.

 Two federal district courts have granted summary judgments based on factual situations similar to the instant case. In Harrison v. Humble Oil & Refining Co., 264 F. Supp. 89 [S.C.1967] the facts established that the creditor made one call to plaintiff's employer. The court held that:

 
"The mere communication to the debtor's employer of the existence of the debt is not an unreasonable intrusion and will not support an action." (P. 92)

 In Berrier v. Beneficial Finance, Inc., 234 F. Supp. 204 [N.D.Ind.1964] the court granted summary judgment when the facts disclosed that the creditor made two telephone calls and wrote one letter to the plaintiff's employer asking the employer to speak with the debtor to get her to pay the debt. The ...


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