Following a visit to her hometown of Coalinga, California, the appellant, Cynthia Moreno, wrote “An ode to Coalinga” (Ode) and posted it in her online journal on The Ode opens with “the older I get, the more I realize how much I despise Coalinga” and then proceeds to make a number of extremely negative comments about Coalinga and its inhabitants. Six days later, Cynthia removed the Ode from her journal. At the time, Cynthia was attending the University of California at Berkeley. However, Cynthia‘s parents, appellants David and Maria Moreno, and Cynthia’s sister, appellant Araceli Moreno, were living in Coalinga. Araceli was a student at Coalinga High School.
Respondent, Roger Campbell, was the principal of Coalinga High School and an employee of respondent, Coalinga-Huron Unified School District. The day after Cynthia removed the Ode from her online journal, appellants learned that Campbell had submitted the Ode to the local newspaper, the Coalinga Record, by giving the Ode to his friend, Pamela Pond. Pond was the editor of the Coalinga Record.
The Ode was published in the letters to the editor section of the Coalinga Record. The Ode was attributed to Cynthia, using her full name. Cynthia had not stated her last name in her online journal.
The community reacted violently to the publication of the Ode. Appellants received death threats and a shot was fired at the family home, forcing the family to move out of Coalinga. Due to severe losses, David closed the 20-year-old family business.
Based on the publication of the Ode, appellants filed a complaint alleging causes of action for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

LEVY, J. The issue presented by this appeal is whether an author who posts an article on can state a cause of action for invasion of privacy against a person who submits that article to a newspaper for republication. The trial court concluded not and sustained the demurrer to appellants’ complaint without leave to amend.
Appellants contend the republication constituted a public disclosure of private facts that were not of legitimate public concern and thus was an invasion of privacy. Appellants note that the republication included the author’s last name whereas the posting did not. Appellants further argue that the person who submitted the article to the newspaper did so with the intent of punishing appellants and thus they have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A crucial ingredient of the applicable invasion of privacy cause of action is a public disclosure of private facts. A matter that is already public or that has previously become part of the public domain is not private. Here, Cynthia publicized her opinions about Coalinga by posting the Ode on, a hugely popular Internet site. Cynthia’s affirmative act made her article available to any person with a computer and thus opened it to the public eye. Under these circumstances, no reasonable person would have had an expectation of privacy regarding the published material. As pointed out by appellants, to be a private fact, the expectation of privacy in the fact need not be absolute. Private is not equivalent to secret.
[T]he claim of a right of privacy is not “so much one of total secrecy as it is of the right to define one’s circle of intimacy—to choose who shall see beneath the quotidian mask.” Information disclosed to a few people may remain private.” Nevertheless, the fact that Cynthia expected a limited audience does not change the above analysis. By posting the article on, Cynthia opened the article to the public at large. Her potential audience was vast. That Cynthia removed the Ode from her online journal after six days is also of no consequence. The publication was not so obscure or transient that it was not accessed by others. The only place that Campbell could have obtained a copy of the Ode was from the Internet, either directly or indirectly.
Finally, Cynthia‘s last name was not a private fact. Although her online journal used only the name “Cynthia,” it is clear that her identity was readily ascertainable from her MySpace page. Campbell was able to attribute the article to her from the Internet source. There is no allegation that Campbell obtained Cynthia’s identification from a private source. In fact, Cynthia‘s MySpace page included her picture. Thus, Cynthia’s identity as the author of the Ode was public. In disclosing Cynthia’s last name, Campbell was merely giving further publicity to already public information. Such disclosure does not provide a basis for the tort.
In sum, because the Ode was not private, appellants’ claim is precluded under California privacy tort law. Accordingly, the trial court properly sustained the demurrer to the invasion of privacy cause of action.


Do you agree with the court’s decision? Do you believe that a posting on MySpace (or any social media site) lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy? Why or why not?


What stakeholders are affected by this decision? Do you believe that the third party who gave the MySpace post to the newspaper had any ethical duty to the plaintiff who wrote the Ode?

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