Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Diaz v. Oakland Tribune, Inc. case brief

Diaz v. Oakland Tribune, Inc. case brief summary
188 Cal. Rptr. 762 (1983)

Appellants, newspaper owner/publisher and columnist, challenged the judgment of Superior Court of Alameda County (California), awarding respondent individual compensatory and punitive damages for invasion of privacy because a published newspaper article contained embarrassing private facts, specifically that respondent was a transsexual, that were unwarranted, malicious, and caused severe emotional distress. A motion for new trial was denied.

Respondent individual chose to undergo a sex change operation which she was happy with, but kept the surgery a secret. Appellant columnist wrote a published article for appellant owner/publisher's newspaper revealing that respondent was a transsexual. Respondent filed suit against appellants for invasion of privacy, claiming the article contained embarrassing private facts that were unwarranted, malicious, and caused emotional distress.

The trial court awarded compensatory and punitive damages to respondent and denied a motion for new trial.


  • The appellate court reversed the judgment, holding the trial court misinstructed the jury on the right to privacy and on the burden of proving newsworthiness, which were prejudicial errors. 
  • The right to privacy instruction required a "compelling public need" for the intrusion, which was too high a standard that abridged the constitutional right of free speech and press. 
  • On the newsworthiness instruction, it was misleading to assert that appellants had the burden of proof. 
  • Respondent had the burden of proving the publication was not privileged or newsworthy, but appellants could rebut the showing with newsworthiness evidence.

The court reversed a judgment awarding respondent individual damages for invasion of privacy to be free from public disclosure of private embarrassing facts, favoring appellants, newspaper owner/publisher and columnist. The "compelling public need" standard for the intrusion was too high, abridging constitutional rights, and the newsworthiness burden of proof on appellants was misleading in jury instructions.

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