Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, S103781.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtWERDEGAR, J.
Citation30 Cal.4th 1342,71 P.3d 296,1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32
PartiesINTEL CORPORATION, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Kourosh Kenneth HAMIDI, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S103781.,S103781.
Decision Date30 June 2003

1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32
30 Cal.4th 1342
71 P.3d 296

INTEL CORPORATION, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
Kourosh Kenneth HAMIDI, Defendant and Appellant

No. S103781.

Supreme Court of California.

June 30, 2003.


1 Cal.Rptr.3d 35
Philip H. Weber, Placerville; Dechert, William M. McSwain, Richard L. Berkman, F. Gregory Lastowka; Levy, Ram & Olson, Karl Olson, San Francisco, and Erica L. Craven for Defendant and Appellant

Mark A. Lemley and Deirdre K. Mulligan for Professors of Intellectual Property and Computer Law as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Lee Tien and Deborah Pierce for Electronic Frontier Foundation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Jennifer Stisa Granick, San Francisco, for the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Ann Brick and Christopher A. Hansen for American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, Inc., and American Civil Liberties Union Foundation as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Robert M. O'Neil and J. Joshua Wheeler for The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

Atshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain, Stephen P. Berzon, Scott A. Kronland, San Francisco, and Stacey M. Leyton for the Service Employees International Union, AFL CIO as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

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

Steptoe & Johnson, Stewart A. Baker and W. Chelsea Chen for the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

1 Cal.Rptr.3d 36
Richard A. Epstein for California Employment Law Council, California Manufacturers & Technology Association, eBay, Inc., Information Technology Industry Council, National Association of Manufacturers, Semiconductor Industry Association and Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent

Fred J. Hiestand, Sacramento, for the Civil Justice Association of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

Proskauer Rose, Mark Theodore, Arthur F. Silbergeld, Niloofar Nejat Bina and Adam C. Abrahms, Los Angeles, for Labor Policy Association, Inc., United States Chamber of Commerce and California Chamber of Commerce as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Respondent.

WERDEGAR, J.

Intel Corporation (Intel) maintains an electronic mail system, connected to the Internet, through which messages between employees and those outside the company can be sent and received, and permits its employees to make reasonable nonbusiness use of this system. On six occasions over almost two years, Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi, a former Intel employee, sent e-mails criticizing Intel's employment practices to numerous current employees on Intel's electronic mail system. Hamidi breached no computer security barriers in order to communicate with Intel employees. He offered to, and did, remove from his mailing list any recipient who so wished. Hamidi's communications to individual Intel employees caused neither physical damage nor functional disruption to the company's computers, nor did they at any time deprive Intel of the use of its computers. The contents of the messages, however, caused discussion among employees and managers.

On these facts, Intel brought suit, claiming that by communicating with its employees over the company's e-mail system Hamidi committed the tort of trespass to chattels. The trial court granted Intel's motion for summary judgment and enjoined Hamidi from any further mailings. A divided Court of Appeal affirmed.

After reviewing the decisions analyzing unauthorized electronic contact with computer systems as potential trespasses to chattels, we conclude that under California law the tort does not encompass, and should not be extended to encompass, an electronic communication that neither damages the recipient computer system nor impairs its functioning. Such an electronic communication does not constitute an actionable trespass to personal property, i.e., the computer system, because it does not interfere with the possessor's use or possession of, or any other legally protected interest in, the personal property itself. (See Zaslow v. Kroenert (1946) 29 Cal.2d 541, 551, 176 P.2d 1; Ticketmaster Corp. v. Tickets.com, Inc. (C.D.Cal, Aug. 10, 2000, No. 99CV7654) 2000 WL 1887522, p. *4; Rest.2d Torts, § 218.) The consequential economic damage Intel claims to have suffered, i.e., loss of productivity caused by employees reading and reacting to Hamidi's messages and company efforts to block the messages, is not an injury to the company's interest in its computers— which worked as intended and were unharmed by the communications—any more than the personal distress caused by reading an unpleasant letter would be an injury to the recipient's mailbox, or the loss of privacy caused by an intrusive telephone call would be an injury to the recipient's telephone equipment.

Our conclusion does not rest on any special immunity for communications by electronic mail; we do not hold that

1 Cal.Rptr.3d 37
messages transmitted through the Internet are exempt from the ordinary rules of tort liability. To the contrary, e-mail, like other forms of communication, may in some circumstances cause legally cognizable injury to the recipient or to third parties and may be actionable under various common law or statutory theories. Indeed, on facts somewhat similar to those here, a company or its employees might be able to plead causes of action for interference with prospective economic relations (see Guillory v. Godfrey (1955) 134 Cal. App.2d 628, 630-632, 286 P.2d 474 [defendant berated customers and prospective customers of plaintiffs' cafe with disparaging and racist comments]), interference with contract (see Blender v. Superior Court (1942) 55 Cal.App.2d 24, 25-27, 130 P.2d 179 [defendant made false statements about plaintiff to his employer, resulting in plaintiffs discharge]) or intentional infliction of emotional distress (see Kiseskey v. Carpenters' Trust for So. California (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 222, 229-230, 192 Cal.Rptr. 492 [agents of defendant union threatened life, health, and family of employer if he did not sign agreement with union].) And, of course, as with any other means of publication, third party subjects of e-mail communications may under appropriate facts make claims for defamation, publication of private facts, or other speechbased torts. (See, e.g., Southridge Capital Management v. Lowry (S.D.N.Y.2002) 188 F.Supp.2d 388, 394-396 [allegedly false statements in e-mail sent to several of plaintiffs clients support actions for defamation and ` interference with contract].) Intel's claim fails not because e-mail transmitted through the Internet enjoys unique immunity, but because the trespass to chattels tort—unlike the causes of action just mentioned—may not, in California, be proved without evidence of an injury to the plaintiffs personal property or legal interest therein

Nor does our holding affect the legal remedies of Internet service providers (ISP's) against senders of unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail (UCE), also known as "spam." (See Ferguson v. Friendfinders, Inc. (2002) 94 Cal.App.4th 1255, 1267, 115 Cal.Rptr.2d 258.) A series of federal district court decisions, beginning with CompuServe, Inc. v. Cyber Promotions, Inc. (S.D.Ohio 1997) 962 F.Supp. 1015, has approved the use of trespass to chattels as a theory of spammers' liability to ISP's, based upon evidence that the vast quantities of mail sent by spammers both overburdened the ISP's own computers and made the entire computer system harder to use for recipients, the ISP's customers. (See id. at pp. 1022-1023.) In those cases, discussed in greater detail below, the underlying complaint was that the extraordinary quantity of UCE impaired the computer system's functioning. In the present case, the claimed injury is located in the disruption or distraction caused to recipients by the contents of the e-mail messages, an injury entirely separate from, and not directly affecting, the possession or value of personal property.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo; we must decide independently whether the facts not subject to triable dispute warrant judgment for the moving party as a matter of law. (Galanty v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co. (2000) 23 Cal.4th 368, 374, 97 Cal.Rptr.2d 67, 1 P.3d 658; Norgart v. Upjohn Co. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 383, 404, 87 Cal.Rptr.2d 453, 981 P.2d 79; Code Civ. Proc, § 437c, subd. (c).) The pertinent undisputed facts are as follows.

Hamidi, a former Intel engineer, together with others, formed an organization named Former and Current Employees of

1 Cal.Rptr.3d 38
Intel (FACE-Intel) to disseminate information and views critical of Intel's employment and personnel policies and practices. FACE-Intel maintained a Web site (which identified Hamidi as Webmaster and as the organization's spokesperson) containing such material. In addition, over a 21-month period Hamidi, on behalf of FACE-Intel, sent six mass e-mails to employee addresses on Intel's electronic mail system. The messages criticized Intel's employment practices, warned employees of the dangers those practices posed to their careers, suggested employees consider moving to other companies, solicited employees' participation in FACE-Intel, and urged employees to inform themselves further by visiting FACE-Intel's Web site. The messages stated that recipients could, by notifying the sender of their wishes, be removed from FACE-Intel's mailing list; Hamidi did not subsequently send messages to anyone who requested removal.

Each message was sent to thousands of addresses (as many as 35,000 according to FACE-Intel's Web...

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440 practice notes
  • Cobb v. Gabriele, H029796 (Cal. App. 4/30/2007), H029796
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 30, 2007
    ...a trespass based on an unlawful encroachment is a tort, for which one may seek an injunction. (See Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1351-1352 [injunction to prevent trespass to ripen into prescriptive rights].) However, to obtain such relief, a property owner must first establi......
  • Plotnik v. Meihaus, s. G045885
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • December 12, 2012
    ...whether it could have been anticipated or not.” Citing Zaslow v. Kroenert (1946) 29 Cal.2d 541, 176 P.2d 1,Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32, 71 P.3d 296, and [208 Cal.App.4th 1606]McMahon v. Craig, supra, 176 Cal.App.4th 1502, 97 Cal.Rptr.3d 555, Meihaus argues......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • October 1, 2018
    ...Supreme Court has held that the principles underlying the tort apply to allegations of digital trespass. Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32, 71 P.3d 296, 300 (2003). Under California law, trespass to chattels "lies where an intentional interference with the possession ......
  • Welenco, Inc. v. Corbell, 2:13–cv–0287 KJM CKD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • August 25, 2015
    ...has proximately caused injury." In re iPhone Application Litig., 844 F.Supp.2d 1040, 1069 (N.D.Cal.2012) (quoting Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1350–51, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32, 71 P.3d 296 (2003) ). A trespasser is liable when the trespass diminishes the condition, quality or value of p......
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456 cases
  • Cobb v. Gabriele, H029796 (Cal. App. 4/30/2007), H029796
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 30, 2007
    ...a trespass based on an unlawful encroachment is a tort, for which one may seek an injunction. (See Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1351-1352 [injunction to prevent trespass to ripen into prescriptive rights].) However, to obtain such relief, a property owner must first establi......
  • S. Cal. Gas Co. v. Superior Court of L. A. Cnty.(In re S. Cal. Gas Leak Cases), S246669
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 30, 2019
    ...doctrinal confusion, "we would be acting rashly to adopt a rule treating" evacuation zones as talismanic. ( Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1363, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32, 71 P.3d 296 [declining to extend trespass 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 648liability into cyberspace based on similar doctrinal......
  • Vargas v. SAI Monrovia B, Inc., B237257
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 4, 2013
    ...degree of irreparable injury the denial of the injunction would cause. ( Id. at p. 435, 9 Cal.Rptr.3d 257 ; Intel Corp. v. Hamidi (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1352, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32, 71 P.3d 296 ; 157 Cal.Rptr.3d 760 6 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Provisional Remedies, § 337, p. 282.) P......
  • Yellowcake, Inc. v. Morena Music, Inc., Case No. 1:20-CV-0787 AWI BAM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • March 1, 2021
    ...converted. General Security Servs. Corp. v. County of Fresno, 815 F.Supp.2d 1123, 1143 (E.D. Cal. 2011) ; Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 30 Cal.4th 1342, 1350, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 32, 71 P.3d 296 (2003) : Irwin v. McDowell, 91 Cal. 119, 122, 27 P. 601 (1891).522 F.Supp.3d 775 The Counterclaim in relevant......
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1 books & journal articles
  • COMPUTER CRIMES
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review No. 58-3, July 2021
    • July 1, 2021
    ...traff‌icking involving the use of a website functioning as “an online marketplace for illicit goods and services”); Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 71 P.3d 296, 303–04 (Cal. 2003) (holding that sending mass emails through an Intel list-serve did not constitute trespass to chattels under tort theory ......

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