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Memorandum re: FIPA v. MTCA

Memorandum re: FIPA v. MTCA

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Published by Mara Stewart
Memorandum detailing whether the local Housing Authority could be sued for invasion of privacy under the Fair Information Practices Act, or whether the Housing Authority was exempt from intentional tort liability under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act.
Memorandum detailing whether the local Housing Authority could be sued for invasion of privacy under the Fair Information Practices Act, or whether the Housing Authority was exempt from intentional tort liability under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act.

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: Mara Stewart on Jan 25, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/25/2013

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MEMORANDUM TO:[Redacted]FROM:Mara StewartDATE:November 5, 2012SUBJ: Invasion of privacy as cause of action against apublic employerQUESTIONCan a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seekdamages from a public employer in an invasion of privacy cause of action under FIPA or the Mass. Tort Claims Act?BRIEF ANSWERNo. Under the Massachusetts Torts Claims Act, upheld innumerous court cases, an invasion of privacy is considered anintentional tort, and is therefore exempted as a cause of action againsta public employer.FACTS The local Housing Authority violated a client’s privacy when herpersonal information, an application packet containing demographicand disability information, was disclosed to an unauthorized party bymail.DISCUSSION The Fair Information Practices Act (FIPA), M.G.L. c. 66A, wasenacted in 1975. It defines what entities in the Commonwealth are“holders” of personal data, and provides agencies and authorities withthe power to promulgate regulations regarding the collection, use, anddissemination of personal data. However, FIPA itself does notspecifically provide for civil remedies of violations of the statute. M.G.L.c. 214 §3B provides for damages under FIPA.In 1978 the General Court passed the Massachusetts Tort ClaimsAct, M.G.L. c. 258. Prior to its passage, the Commonwealth and
 
municipalities enjoyed sovereign immunity from suit. With passage of the MTCA, public employers became liable for negligent or wrongfulacts of an employee while the employee was engaged in activitieswithin the scope of his or her duties (M.G.L. c.258 §2). However, §10 of the MTCA exempts public employers from liability from intentionaltorts, including invasion of privacy claims. The MTCA and FIPA intersected in Spring v. Holyoke GeriatricAuthority
1
. In Spring, the plaintiff’s deceased husband’s privacy wasbreached when staff of a municipally-run nursing home publishedinformation about his medical case in a local newspaper without his orhis family’s permission. The plaintiff claimed invasion of privacy underG.L. c.66A. The Authority filed a motion for summary judgment on thetwo counts of invasion of privacy, which the Court awarded. The Courtawarded summary judgment to the Authority on the counts of invasionof privacy for two reasons. First, the Geriatric Authority, being a city-level entity, was not governed under FIPA, which governs only state-level Authorities, and local Housing Authorities. Second, the Courtdisagreed with the plaintiff’s argument that the Authority, as a publicemployer under G.L. c. 258, § 1, was subject to her invasion of privacyclaims. Prior to Spring, there was no case law in this Commonwealthholding municipalities liable for the intentional torts of their employees. The MTCA exempted public employers from liability from intentionaltorts, but left open the question of individual employees being liablefor them. The Court concluded that, consistent with the principles of sovereign immunity pre-dating the MTCA, public employers retainedtheir immunity from suits arising from intentional torts.
2
FIPA and the MTCA once more intersected in Tivnan vs. Registrarof Motor Vehicles
3
. An imposter duped the Registry of Motor Vehiclesinto issuing him a duplicate driver license with Andrew Tivnan’s nameand personal data. Tivnan sued the Registrar in his official capacity,seeking damages for emotional distress under FIPA due to the invasionof privacy. The Registry answered that the MTCA had superseded G.L.c. 214 §3B, the statute permitting such a claim under FIPA.Additionally, because of the restrictions in §10 of the MTCA, the statuteprovides only a remedy for a negligence claim; invasion of privacy, anintentional tort, is not provided for. The trial court agreed, and grantedsummary judgment in favor of the Registry. The Appeals court, citingSpring, affirmed the trial court’s decision.
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The end result of Tivnan isthat an invasion of privacy claim against a public employer, being
1
475 N.E.2d 727 Mass. 1985
2
Id., at 734
3
734 N.E.2d 1182, Mass. App. Ct. 2000.

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