South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Private Investigator Has Duty of Reasonable Care in Disclosing Personal Information
Description A private investigator sold personal information to a client that helped him to find a person, who the client then killed. The New Hampshire high court held that investigators have a duty to exercise reasonable care in disclosing personal information to clients.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Misappropriation; Reasonable Care; Investigators
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Youens contacted Docusearch.com, an internet-based investigation service, and requested the birthdate, social security number, and workplace of Amy Boyer. Youens paid various fees for the information, which was pulled from public records except for her workplace, which was found by making a phone call to her under false pretenses by a private investigator. Once Youens got the information, he went to the workplace and killed Boyer. Her estate sued Docusearch for negligent invasion of privacy and misappropriation of Boyer's name or likeness. The federal district court directed several questions about New Hampshire tort law to that state's high court so the court could apply the law properly to the case.
Decision

"The misappropriation tort does not protect one's name per se; rather it protects the value associated with that name…. An investigator who sells personal information sells the information for the value of the information itself, not to take advantage of the person's reputation or prestige." However, "the threats posed by stalking and identity theft lead us to conclude that the risk of criminal misconduct is sufficiently foreseeable so that an investigator has a duty to exercise reasonable care in disclosing a third person's personal information to a client…. This is especially true when … the investigator does not know the client or the client's purpose in seeking the information." Criminal misconduct is foreseeable in light of threats posed by stalking and identity theft.

Citation Remsburg v. Docusearch, Inc., --- A.2d --- (2003 WL 346260, Sup. Ct., N.H., 2003)

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