California Supreme Court ruling on misrepresentation and invasion of privacy

The California Supreme Court has ruled that a county trial court must determine whether a psychologist used subterfuge to obtain an interview with the foster mother of a woman who had claimed as an adult a repressed memory of childhood sexual abuse.

Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, a renowned expert on the fallibility of eye witness evidence and an opponent of the notion of repressed memory, was a defendant in a civil court case that originated in Solano County California. Loftus reviewed a court case file and interviewed the foster mother in preparation for an article she was writing. The foster mother claimed that Loftus posed as a supervisor of the mental health professional in whom the plaintiff had confided. The alleged misrepresentation of the doctor-patient role is apparently the aspect of the invasion-of-privacy claim that concerned the Supreme Court.

At the same time, we also conclude that the Court of Appeal correctly determined that plaintiff’s action for improper intrusion into private matters could proceed based upon the claim that Loftus obtained personal and sensitive information regarding plaintiff from her former foster mother by misrepresenting herself as an associate of Corwin, a psychiatrist with whom plaintiff had a close professional relationship.

Although the opinion asserted that a misrepresentation of the patient-physician relationship is “different from the more familiar practice of a news reporter or investigator in shading or withholding information” this issue is being remanded to the trial court to decide.

The Los Angeles Times report quotes the representative for the news media who reflected on the court’s reasoning saying, ‘ “The problem is you don’t know with any predictive certainty” which sorts of misrepresentations would create liability.’

Also read:
Interview Methods Face Trial
California high court allows suit claiming misrepresentation to proceed
, ABA Journal

Who Abused Jane Doe?
The Hazards of the Single Case History

Elizabeth F. Loftus and Melvin J. Guyer
Case histories make contributions to science and practice, but they can also be highly misleading.

What’s your opinion of the relevance of this case to private investigators?

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