Y.G. v. Jewish Hosp. of St. Louis
|795 S.W.2d 488
|12 July 1990
|Y.G. and L.G., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. The JEWISH HOSPITAL OF ST. LOUIS and Multi-Media KSDK, Inc., Defendants-Respondents.
|Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Frank Susman and Randall B. Kahn, Clayton, for plaintiffs-appellants.
Peter F. Spataro, Gerald R. Ortbals, and John William Moticka, St. Louis, for defendants-respondents.
These proceedings involve the common law tort of an alleged invasion of the privacy of the plaintiffs-appellants, Y.G. and L.G., husband and wife. The trial court dismissed the petition of the plaintiffs. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.
This complex, important case of first impression requires us to decide the precise issue of resolving the delicate balance between a married couple's right to their privacy in procreating children by the process of in vitro fertilization and the privilege or freedom of a hospital where such procedures are done, and the freedom of the electronic news media to report and make public the events surrounding the modern medical "miracle" of the extraordinary process in vitro fertilization.
The issue is certainly not easily resolved for the cherished freedoms embodied in the American ideal of privacy of the individual and the freedom of the news media necessarily conflict. On the one hand, private individuals in the plight of these unnamed plaintiffs to keep their bodily procreative secrets known only to their parents or certain close friends is of the highest importance to them, and on the other hand, the news media has a privilege and often a duty to report to the public certain "newsworthy" events which are of great interest to the general public.
This case arises upon "motions to dismiss" the plaintiffs-appellants' petition and the summary dismissal thereof under Rules 55.27 and 74.04. The precise issue which must be determined, under traditional principles of these rules, is whether the appellants have stated a claim for relief and are entitled to a trial on the merits, regardless of whether they may prove their claims and obtain damages for any losses they may have sustained.
At this stage of the proceedings, we conclude that the experienced trial court's action in dismissing the petition of the plaintiffs seeking damages for the common law tort of the right of privacy was inappropriate and therefore reverse the order of the trial court and remand the cause for further proceedings.
On October 31, 1989, the circuit court of the City of St. Louis issued its Order dismissing plaintiffs' petition upon motion of Jewish Hospital of St. Louis and the "motion to dismiss" filed by KSDK. The Order stated that KSDK submitted exhibits and affidavits, as did the appellants, and having considered the pleadings, motions, all exhibits and affidavits, the court sustained the motions to dismiss.
The first amended petition filed on June 20, 1989, stated that Y.G. and L.G. are husband and wife and residents of St. Louis County. KSDK has its principal place of business in the City of St. Louis, and Jewish Hospital also has its principal place of business in the city. The petition alleged that the wife, L.G., was five months pregnant, bearing triplets "conceived through a medical process known as in vitro fertilization at and under the auspices of [Jewish Hospital]." 1 The hospital had planned to have a "social function" and a "meeting of [the] couples" presently and previously involved in its in vitro program which would be held on September 11, 1988, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the in vitro fertilization program at the hospital. Plaintiffs were invited to this "social gathering" and "meeting." The petition specifically alleged that the hospital "assured" them that no "publicity nor public exposure of persons attending" the function would occur. At the invitation of the Hospital, plaintiffs attended the "function." The plaintiffs alleged that at that "function" a "film and reporting news team of KSDK was present." Plaintiffs were twice requested to give an interview on television film but each time they refused, and made every "reasonable effort" to avoid being filmed or interviewed by the representatives of the electronic media.
Before the social function of in vitro procedure, plaintiffs had "told no one" about their attempt to procreate, other than Y.G.'s mother. The petition then alleged that "without permission", and after having been denied "express permission, waiver or privilege, KSDK filmed the function and showed it on their television program that evening ... [that] L.G. [and Y.G.] were present at [the] Hospital's function, ... and the newscast [although not mentioning their names] told [that they were] expecting triplets by reason of their participation in [the] Hospital's in vitro program."
The petition concluded that the "acts" of defendants constituted an invasion of plaintiffs' privacy. Plaintiffs' identification as parents of triplets conceived through the in vitro program was a private matter in which the public had no legitimate concern. The the news program of KSDK, and that the Plaintiffs prayed for actual and punitive damages. An affidavit by Y.G. was filed with the petition. The affidavit stated that after the televised broadcast, she received numerous calls, and embarrassing questions and in addition was chastised by her church. The husband's affidavit stated he was ridiculed at work. Implicit in the petition is the fact that KSDK was informed of the September, 1988 function and was invited to attend the function.
On August 25, 1989, Jewish Hospital filed its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because (a) it "did not publicize the events" mentioned in the petition, (b) the televised report was of legitimate concern to the public, (c) it "had no reason to expect that the report prepared by KSDK would be highly offensive to a reasonable person," and (d) plaintiffs waived "whatever right of privacy they had by attending the function in the company of third party non-medical personnel." KSDK also filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim contending that its "report was of legitimate concern to the public," "that it had no reason to believe that the report would be highly offensive to a reasonable person," and plaintiffs waived "whatever right of privacy they had by attending the September 11, 1988 party."
Attached to the motion filed by KSDK were certain affidavits stating that the topics of infertility, and procreative technology, including in vitro fertilization have been regularly featured in news reports by both print and electronic media. Various news reports were attached. The executive secretary for KSDK attached a videotape copy of the video broadcast taken at the hospital on September 12, 1990. With permission, this video broadcast was shown to the court during oral argument. The reporter for KSDK also made an affidavit. In the affidavit she stated that Jewish Hospital invited KSDK to attend and report on the "party" the hospital was holding. She attended the "party" and prepared the TV report which was broadcast on the 10:00 p.m. news. The plaintiffs appeared on camera for approximately three seconds.
KSDK's brief contends that their report was a matter of legitimate concern to the public, that plaintiffs' "fleeting appearance" was not a private matter and was not a "public disclosure of private facts;" it was not highly offensive and that the plaintiffs waived whatever right of privacy they had by attending the "party."
On September 14, 1989, the court acknowledged the filing of KSDK's affidavits and brief in support of its motion to dismiss, and pursuant to Rule 55.27(a), treated KSDK's motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment. The court did not issue a similar order as to the motion to dismiss filed by Jewish Hospital although there were also affidavits filed therewith.
After the motions were argued, the trial court, on October 31, 1989 sustained the "motions to dismiss" filed by both Jewish Hospital and KSDK.
In proper time, plaintiff-appellants appealed.
On appeal, appellants contend that the trial court erred in dismissing their petition as to Jewish Hospital because it states a claim for invasion of privacy and erred in granting KSDK's motion for summary judgment because material issues of fact exist, hence KSDK is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
On the other hand, KSDK and Jewish Hospital contend in their briefs the same or similar points raised in their motions.
We first examine the procedural issues involved.
Since a portion of this case relating to Jewish Hospital emanates upon a motion to dismiss, we must examine the petition, and attachments thereto in the light of the well known principles relating to the modern motion to dismiss.
On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, we are required to construe the petition favorably and to give the pleader the benefit of every reasonable and fair intendment and all inferences fairly deducible from the facts in view of the facts alleged, and if the pleader's allegations invoke principles of substantive law which may entitle it to relief, the petition is not to be dismissed. If the facts pleaded and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom looked at most favorably from the plaintiffs' standpoint show any ground upon which relief may be granted the plaintiffs have the right to proceed. State ex rel. Sisters of St....
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