Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, No. C033076.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtMorrison
Citation94 Cal.App.4th 325,114 Cal.Rptr.2d 244
PartiesINTEL CORPORATION, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Kourosh Kenneth HAMIDI, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. C033076.
Decision Date10 December 2001
114 Cal.Rptr.2d 244
94 Cal.App.4th 325
INTEL CORPORATION, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Kourosh Kenneth HAMIDI, Defendant and Appellant.
No. C033076.
Court of Appeal, Third District.
December 10, 2001.
Review Granted March 27, 2002.

[114 Cal.Rptr.2d 246]

Philip H. Weber, Placerville, for Defendant and Appellant.

Ann Brick for American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California; Christopher A. Hansen for American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York; and Deborah Pierce for Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amici Curiae for Defendant and Appellant.

Morrison & Foerster, Linda E. Shostak, Michael A. Jacobs, San Francisco, and Kurt E. Springmann, San Diego, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

MORRISON, J.


After Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi was fired by Intel Corporation, he began to air grievances about the company. Hamidi repeatedly flooded Intel's e-mail system. When its security department was unable to block or otherwise end Hamidi's mass emails, Intel filed this action. The trial court issued a permanent injunction stopping the campaign, on a theory of trespass to chattels.

On appeal Hamidi, supported by Amici Curiae Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), urges trespass to chattels was not proven and, even if it was, the injunction violates free speech principles which require the elements of the tort be tempered in cases involving speech. We shall affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Intel filed a brief complaint, alleging it maintains an internal, proprietary, e-mail system for use of its employees; the e-mail addresses are confidential; defendant Hamidi and FACE-Intel (Former and Current Employees of Intel, a defaulting party which did not appeal) obtained Intel's e-mail address list and on several occasions sent e-mail to up to 29,000 employees; on March 17, 1998, Intel sent a letter demanding Hamidi stop, but he refused. The complaint sought remedies based on theories of nuisance and trespass to chattels.

Intel moved for summary judgment and submitted a set of undisputed facts which Hamidi did not dispute. They establish: Hamidi is the FACE-Intel webmaster and spokesperson. He sent e-mails to between 8,000 and 35,000 Intel employees on six specific occasions. He ignored Intel's request to stop and took steps to evade its security measures. Intel's employees "spend significant amounts of time attempting to block and remove HAMIDI's e-mail from the INTEL computer systems," which are governed by policies which "limit use of the e-mail system to company business."

Hamidi filed a declaration in opposition to summary judgment, explaining "FACE-INTEL was formed to provide a medium for INTEL employees to air their grievances and concerns over employment conditions at INTEL. FACE-INTEL provides an extremely important forum for employees within an international corporation to communicate via a web page on the

114 Cal.Rptr.2d 247

Internet and via electronic mail, on common labor issues, that, due to geographical and other limitations, would not otherwise be possible." His six mass e-mailings "did not originate on INTEL property, nor were they sent to INTEL property. The electronic mails were sent over the internet to an internet server. [¶] With each of the electronic mailings [he] informed each recipient that [he] would remove them from the mailing list upon request. [He] only received 450 requests[.]"

Intel dropped its nuisance theory and claim for damages, and the trial court granted summary judgment. It issued an injunction that "defendants, their agents, servants, assigns, employees, officers, directors, and all those acting in concert for or with defendants are hereby permanently restrained and enjoined from sending unsolicited e-mail to addresses on INTEL's computer systems." Hamidi timely appealed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review the judgment de nov o. (Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 826, 860, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 841, 24 P.3d 493; Jackson v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 1830, 1836, 20 Cal.Rptr.2d 913; see Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (c) & subd. (o)(2).)

DISCUSSION

I. Intel Proved Hamidi Trespassed to its Chattels

The common law adapts to human endeavor. For example, if rules developed through judicial decisions for railroads prove nonsensical for automobiles, courts have the ability and duty to change them. (See generally, Keller, Condemned to Repeat the Past: The Reemergence of Misappropriation and other Common Law Theories of Protection for Intellectual Property (1998) 11 Harv.J.L. & Tech. 401, 403-406, 423-26.)

Trespass to chattels is somewhat arcane and suffers from desuetude. "The chief importance of the theory today, according to Prosser, is that there may be recovery for interferences with the possession of personal property that are not sufficiently important to be classed as conversion, i.e., as a `little brother of conversion.'" (5 Witkin, Summary of Cal. Law (9th ed.1988, 1999 Supp.) Torts, § 627A, p. 390; see id., § 610, pp. 707-708.) However, the tort has reemerged as an important rule of cyberspace.

We begin with Prosser, who explains: "The earliest cases in which the action of trespass was applied to chattels involved asportation, or carrying off, and a special form of the writ, known as trespass de bonis asportatis, was devised to deal with such situations. Later the action was extended to include cases where the goods were damaged but not taken—as where animals were killed or beaten. Later decisions extended the tort to include any direct and immediate intentional interference with a chattel in the possession of another. Thus it is a trespass to damage goods or destroy them, to make an unpermitted use of them, or to move them from one place to another." (Prosser and Keeton, Torts (5th ed. 1984) Trespass to Chattels, § 14, p. 85, fns. omitted.)

Although there was litigation over who could bring suit and over formal pleading requirements, the shape of the tort is simple. A leading American court approved this definition: "1. To constitute a trespass, there must be a disturbance of the plaintiffs possession. 2. The disturbance may be by an actual taking, a physical seizing or taking hold of the goods, removing them from their owner, or by exercising a control or authority over them inconsistent with their owner's possession."

114 Cal.Rptr.2d 248

(Holmes v. Doane (1855) 69 Mass. 328, 329.) The most common application is for a physical taking, even if momentary. (See Tubbs v. Delk (Mo.Ct.App.1996) 932 S.W.2d 454 [taking camera for five minutes, returning it with film intact].)

The Restatement is in accord, providing "A trespass to a chattel may be committed by intentionally ... (b) using or intermeddling with a chattel in the possession of another." (Rest.2d Torts, § 217, p. 417.) Most cases involve concrete harm to a chattel, "actual impairment of its physical condition, quality or value to the possessor ... as distinguished from the mere affront to [the owner's] dignity as possessor[.]" (§ 218, com. h, p. 422 [allowing some exceptions, such as use of another's toothbrush].)

The Restatement also provides "The interest of a possessor of a chattel in its inviolability, unlike the similar interest of a possessor of land, is not given legal protection by an action for nominal damages for harmless intermeddlings with the chattel. In order that an actor who interferes with another's chattel may be liable, his conduct must affect some other and more important interest of the possessor. Therefore, one who intentionally intermeddles with another's chattel is subject to liability only if his intermeddling is harmful to the possessor's materially valuable interest in the physical condition, quality, or value of the chattel, or if the possessor is deprived of the use of the chattel for a substantial time, or some other legally protected interest [is harmed.] Sufficient legal protection of the possessor's interest in the mere inviolability of his chattel is afforded by his privilege to use reasonable force to protect his possession against even harmless interference. ... [¶] Illustration: [¶] 2. A, a child, climbs upon the back of B's large dog and pulls its ears. No harm is done to the dog, or to any other legally protected interest of B. A is not liable to B." (§ 218, com. e, pp. 421-422; see Glidden v. Szybiak (1949) 95 N.H. 318, 320, 63 A.2d 233, 235.) This caveat speaks of "nominal damages." Intel does not seek damages, even nominal damages, to compensate for Hamidi's conduct; Intel wants to prevent him from repeating his conduct. In this case, the nature of the remedy sought colors the analysis.

"Originally, all types of trespass, including trespass to land, were punishable under the criminal law because the trespasser's conduct was regarded as a breach of the peace. When the criminal and civil aspects of trespass were separated, the civil action for trespass was colored by its past, and the idea that the peace of the community was put in danger by the trespasser's conduct influenced the courts' ideas of the character of the tort. Therefore, relief was granted to the plaintiff where he was not actually damaged, partly, at least, as a means of discouraging disruptive influences in the community. If then, there is an act on the part of the defendant interfering with the plaintiffs possession, which does or is likely to result in arousing conflict between them, that act will characterize the tort as a trespass, assuming of course that the other elements of the tort are made out." (7 Speiser et al, American Law of Torts (1990) Trespass, § 23:1, p. 592 (Speiser).)

The treatise just quoted states "As a number of very early cases show, any unlawful interference, however slight, with the enjoyment by another of his personal property, is a trespass." (Speiser, supra, § 23:23, p. 667.) The oldest case cited is Rand v. Sargent (1843) 23 Me. 326. Actually, "chasing cattle has been a trespass...

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2 practice notes
  • Register.Com, Inc. v. Verio, Inc., Docket No. 00-9596.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 23, 2004
    ...548 (E.D.Va.1998) (same); CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc., 962 F.Supp. 1015 (S.D.Ohio 1997) (same); Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 244, 94 Cal.App.4th 325 (Cal.Ct.App.2001) (same), pet. for rev. granted, 118 Cal.Rptr.2d 546, 43 P.3d 587 (Mar. 27, 2002); see also Thrifty-T......
  • Sun Valley Packing v. Consep, Inc., No. F034621.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 10, 2001
    ...and warranty disclaimer on unconscionability grounds. The trial court held that these clauses escaped preemption by FIFRA because 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 244 neither one was required by FIFRA. (948 P.2d at p. The Hawaii Supreme Court agreed with this analysis. The trial court's ruling did not force......
2 cases
  • Register.Com, Inc. v. Verio, Inc., Docket No. 00-9596.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • January 23, 2004
    ...548 (E.D.Va.1998) (same); CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc., 962 F.Supp. 1015 (S.D.Ohio 1997) (same); Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 244, 94 Cal.App.4th 325 (Cal.Ct.App.2001) (same), pet. for rev. granted, 118 Cal.Rptr.2d 546, 43 P.3d 587 (Mar. 27, 2002); see also Thrifty-T......
  • Sun Valley Packing v. Consep, Inc., No. F034621.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 10, 2001
    ...and warranty disclaimer on unconscionability grounds. The trial court held that these clauses escaped preemption by FIFRA because 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 244 neither one was required by FIFRA. (948 P.2d at p. The Hawaii Supreme Court agreed with this analysis. The trial court's ruling did not force......

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