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Michael A. Smyth v.

The Pillsbury Company


914 F. Supp. 97 (E.D. Pa., 1996)
In this case, the District Court dismissed the wrongful discharge claim brought by
plaintiff, an at-will employee, against his employer. The court reached this
conclusion notwithstanding accepting as true, for the purposes of the motion, the
following allegations advanced by plaintiff:

1. defendant employer promised that it would neither read employee e-mail,


nor terminate or reprimand an employee based on the content of such e-
mail; and

2. in breach of this commitment, defendant intercepted plaintiff's e-mail, and


discharged him because defendant found its content inappropriate and
unprofessional.

The court rejected plaintiff's contentions that such conduct constituted an invasion
of plaintiff's privacy under Pennsylvania law. Reasoned the Court: "[W]e do not find
a reasonable expectation of privacy in e-mail communications voluntarily made by
an employee to his supervisor over the company e-mail system notwithstanding
any assurances that such communications would not be intercepted by
management. Once plaintiff communicated the alleged unprofessional comments to
a second person (his supervisor) over an e-mail system which was apparently
utilized by the entire company, any reasonable expectation of privacy was lost.
Significantly, the defendant did not require plaintiff, as in the case of an urinalysis
or personal property search, to disclose any personal information about himself.
Rather, plaintiff voluntarily communicated the alleged unprofessional comments
over the company e-mail system. We find no privacy interests in such
communications. ... [W]e do not find that a reasonable person would consider the
defendant's interception of these communications to be a substantial and highly
offensive invasion of his privacy. Again, we note that by intercepting such
communications, the company is not, as in the case of urinalysis or personal
property searches, requiring the employee to disclose any personal information
about himself or invading the employee's person or personal effects. Moreover, the
company's interest in preventing inappropriate and unprofessional comments or
even illegal activity over its e-mail system outweighs any privacy interest the
employee may have in those comments."

The full text of the decision discussed above can be found on a website maintained
by David Loundy.

In Smyth, the court found that even if an employer assures its employees
that emails will not be intercepted, there is not a reasonable expectation
of privacy in voluntary email communication through the company
email system.[1] The court distinguished this case from Borse on the facts
that the Smyth's person and personal property weren't searched and he
was not required by Pillsbury to disclose any personal information. The
court went on to hold that, even if there was an expectation of privacy in
Smyth's emails, a reasonable person wouldn't consider their interception a
substantial and highly offensive invasion of privacy. Performing the
balancing test that was set out in Borse, they found that Pillsbury's interest
in preventing unprofessional or illegal activity on their email system
outweighed any privacy interest that Smyth might have had in his
messages.

Brief Fact Summary. A Minnesota law that gagged a periodical from publishing derogatory
statements about local public officials was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the
United States (Supreme Court).

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The freedom of press is essential to the nature of a free state but
that freedom may be restricted by the government in certain situations.
Facts. The Saturday Press (the Press) published attacks on local officials. The Press claimed
that the chief of police had illicit relations with gangsters. Minnesota officials obtained an
injunction in order to abate the publishing of the Press newspaper under a state law that allowed
this course of action. The state law authorized abatement, as a public nuisance, of a malicious,
scandalous and defamatory newspaper, or other periodical. A state court order abated the Press
and enjoined the Defendants, publishers of the Press (Defendants), from publishing or
circulating such defamatory and scandalous periodicals.

Issue. Whether a statute authorizing such proceedings is consistent with the conception of the
liberty of the press as historically conceived and guaranteed?
Held. No. Judgment of the state court reversed. The fact that the liberty of press may be abused
by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not effect the requirement that the press has immunity
from previous restraints when it deals with official misconduct. Subsequent punishment for such
abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy, consistent with the constitutional privilege.
Therefore, a statute authorizing such proceedings is not consistent with the conception of the
liberty of the press as historically conceived and guaranteed and is thus, unconstitutional. The
statute in question cannot be justified by reason of the fact that the publisher is permitted to
show, before injunction issues, that the matter published is true and is published with good
motives and for justifiable ends. This statute, if upheld, could lead to a complete system of
censorship. Thus, the statute is a substantial infringement on the liberty of the press and
in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Co
nstitution.

Dissent. This statute does not operate as a previous restraint on publication within proper
meaning of that phrase.
Discussion. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) in this case extended
the presumption against prior restraint in the licensing context to judicial restraints as well.
Babst vs. National Intelligence Board [GR L-62992, 28 September 1984] Resolution
En Banc, Plana (J): 6 concur, 2 concur in result, 2 on leave, 1 concur in separate
opinion, 2 dissent in separate opinions
Facts: Arlene Babst, Odette Alcantara, Ceres P. Doyo, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, Domini
Torrevillas-Suarez, Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, Cielo Buenaventura, Sylvia Mayuga, Sheila S.
Coronel, et al. are columnists, feature article writers and reporters of various local
publications. At different dates since July 1980, some of them have allegedly been
summoned by military authorities who have subjected them to sustained
interrogation on various aspects of their works, feelings, sentiments, beliefs,
associations and even their private lives. Aside from the interrogations, a criminal
complaint for libel was filed by Brig. Gen. Artemio Tidier, Jr. on 9 February 1983 with
the Office of the City Fiscal, Manila, against Domini Torrevillas-Suarez, editor of the
Panorama, and Ma. Ceres Doyo based on an article written by Doyo and published
in the 28 March 1982 issue of the Panorama, on which the author had been
interrogated by Brig. Gen. Wilfredo Estrada (Ret.), Col. Renato Ecarma, NBI Asst.
Director Ponciano Fernando, Col. Balbino Diego, Col. Galileo Kintanar, Col. Eustaquio
Peralta, et. al. The complaint included an staggering P10 million claim for damages.
(An information for libel has since been filed with the Regional Trial Court of the
National Capital Region against Suarez and Doyo.) On 3 March 1983, Babst, et. al.
filed a petition for prohibition with preliminary injunction, which was superseded
by the amended and supplemental petition for prohibition with preliminary
injunction, seeking to prohibit the respondents (a) from issuing subpoenas or letters
of invitation to Babst, et. al. and interrogating them, and (b) from filing libel suits on
matters that have been the subject of inquiry by the National Intelligence Board
(NIB).
Issue: Whether the issuance by the NIB of letters of invitation to Babst, et.al., their
subsequent interrogation, and the filing of libel suits against Suarez and Dayo, are
illegal and unconstitutional as they are violative of the constitutional guarantee on
free expression since they have the effect of imposing restrictive guidelines and
norms on mass media.
Held: Prohibition will not issue in respect of the libel charges now pending in court
against Suarez and Doyo and similar suits that might be filed. The writ of prohibition
is directed against a tribunal, board or person acting without or in excess of
jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion vis-a-vis certain proceedings pending
before it. The libel cases adverted to are not pending before the NIB or any other
respondent. Further, the issue of validity of the libel, charges by reason of
their alleged collision with freedom of expression, is a matter that should
be raised in the proper forum, i.e., before the court where the libel cases
are pending or where they may be filed. The same rule applies to the issue of
admissibility as evidence of matters that have been elicited in the course of an
inquiry or interrogation conducted by the NIB, which Babst, et. al. claim to have
been illegally obtained. Finally, the right to seek redress when libeled is a personal
and individual privilege of the aggrieved party, and no one among the officials has
the authority to restrain any of his subordinates who has been libeled from
vindicating his right by instituting a libel suit. Brig. Gen. Tadiar has filed the libel
case against Suarez and Doyo in his personal capacity. Moreover, he is not even a
member of the NIB. And the NIB does not appear to have anything to do with Gen.
Tadiar's private right to complain of libel.

Respondent Judge Lising issued a search warrant for the seizure of articles
allegedly used by petitioner in committing the crime of sedition. Seized were
printed copies of the Philippine Times, newspaper dummies, typewriters,
mimeographing machines and tape recorders, video machines and tapes.
The petitioner moved to quash the warrant but his motion was denied.

HELD: The statements made in the affidavits are mere conclusions of


law and do not satisfy the requirement of probable cause. The
language used is all embracing as to include all conceivable words and
equipment of petitioner regardless of whether they are legal or illegal. The
search warrant under consideration was in the nature of a general warrant
which is objectionable.