Corcoran v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., KCD

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Citation572 S.W.2d 212
Docket NumberNo. KCD,KCD
PartiesRobert M. CORCORAN and Hazel Corcoran, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. SOUTHWESTERN BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY and Mrs. R. Myron Corcoran, Defendants-Respondents. 29321.
Decision Date02 October 1978

Page 212

572 S.W.2d 212
Robert M. CORCORAN and Hazel Corcoran, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Corcoran, Defendants-Respondents.
No. KCD 29321.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Kansas City District.
Oct. 2, 1978.

Page 213

Jon M. Krebbs, Kansas City, for plaintiffs-appellants.

J. Curtis Nettels, James E. Taylor, Kansas City, for respondent Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.

Charles P. Todt, Susan M. Hammer, Clayton, for respondent Mrs. R. Myron Corcoran.


DIXON, Judge.

Plaintiffs appeal adverse jury verdicts on their claim for invasion of privacy by Southwestern Bell, corporate defendant, and defendant Corcoran, plaintiffs' former daughter-in-law.

Plaintiffs assert instructional error.

The facts are not at issue in this appeal, so they may be briefly summarized. Defendant Georganne Corcoran's marriage to

Page 214

plaintiffs' only son was dissolved in February, 1974. The husband was ordered to pay child support and maintenance. No child support was paid; the husband left Missouri, and the defendant tried, unsuccessfully, to locate him.

On May 31, 1974, defendant Corcoran made two calls to defendant Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. Using her own name, which was the same as plaintiffs', her former in-laws, defendant Corcoran had the telephone company send plaintiffs' telephone bill to a "temporary" address in Chesterfield, Missouri. It is undisputed that the bill was sent by first-class mail in an envelope and that defendant Corcoran opened the envelope addressed to plaintiffs Corcoran. As a result of this ruse, defendant was able to locate her husband and to successfully garnish his wages for back support payments.

On discovery of this scheme, Mrs. Hazel Corcoran, plaintiff-appellant, became very upset and claimed she suffered symptoms of a heart attack, sleeplessness, and much emotional stress. In August, 1974, Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran sued both Mrs. R. Myron Corcoran, their former daughter-in-law, and Southwestern Bell Telephone Company for invasion of their privacy.

Plaintiffs make two general claims of error concerning the instructions given at the request of each of the defendants. First, plaintiffs claim error in the giving of multiple converse instructions for each defendant. Second, plaintiffs claim that these instructions did not converse plaintiffs' verdict directing instructions, were not proper statements of the law, and even if true would not defeat plaintiffs' claims.

The disposition of plaintiffs' appeal as to defendant Southwestern Bell rests upon one basis and the disposition as to defendant Corcoran upon another. This necessitates separate treatment of the issues.

As noted, the plaintiffs contend that the verdict as to defendant Southwestern Bell must be reversed for instructional error. Bell counters with a claim that plaintiffs failed to make a submissible case. Trial errors are immaterial if plaintiffs failed to make a submissible case. Osborn v. McBride, 400 S.W.2d 185 (Mo. 1966); Wilkerson v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 510 S.W.2d 50 (Mo.App. 1974). If plaintiffs failed to make a submissible case, error in the instructions requested by Southwestern Bell is harmless. Shepard v. Ford Motor Co., 457 S.W.2d 255 (Mo.App. 1970).

For a consideration of the issue of submissibility of plaintiffs' case, it is necessary to outline the elements of the tort of invasion of privacy generally, and as it has been interpreted in Missouri case law. "Invasion of privacy" is the general term used to describe four distinct torts. Each of the four torts has distinct elements, and each describes a separate interest that can be invaded, although the separate interests may, and often do, overlap. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts, § 117 (4th ed. 1971).

The Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652A A.L.I. (1977) declares that the right to privacy is invaded when there is (1) unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another; or (2) appropriation of the other's name or likeness; or (3)...

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