Plaintiff husband and his wife were involved in divorce proceedings. In connection with those proceedings, plaintiff’s wife hired defendants, Innovative Investigations, Inc., and its principal Richard P. Leonard, to investigate plaintiff’s suspected infidelities. In the course of the investigation, defendant Leonard suggested to plaintiff’s wife that she place a GPS device on a family vehicle regularly driven by plaintiff in order to track plaintiff’s whereabouts. The wife purchased the device through the internet and placed it in the glove compartment of the family vehicle used by plaintiff. The GPS device remained in the vehicle for about 40 days. Upon discovering the GPS, plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his wife in the divorce action which was ultimately dismissed. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a lawsuit against defendants for intentional or negligent invasion of his right of privacy. However, on defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the Court dismissed plaintiff’s Complaint, holding that he failed to make out a prima facie case of the tort of invasion of privacy. Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, plaintiff alleged that, by placing a GPS tracking device in his vehicle, his now ex-wife intruded upon his solitude and seclusion, thus violating his privacy. He further argued that defendants violated his privacy by suggesting this course of action to his ex-wife. In response, defendants contended that the tracking of a vehicle driving on public roadways or other areas in which the public is allowed cannot constitute an invasion of privacy because the driver of the vehicle has no expectation of privacy in those circumstances.

The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s Complaint, holding that the record did not establish that any invasion of plaintiff’s right of privacy occurred. The Court held that a defendant is only liable for the tort of invasion of privacy if he or she intrudes into a private or secluded location that was out of public view and in which plaintiff had a legitimate expectation of privacy.

There is no liability under this tort theory “for observing [a plaintiff] or even taking his [or her] photograph while he [or she] is walking on a public highway, since he [or she] is not then in seclusion, and his [or her] appearance is public and open to the public eye.” …  “A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his [or her] movements from one place to another.”

Since no direct evidence was presented to establish that the GPS captured any movement by plaintiff into a secluded location that was not in public view at any time during the approximately 40 days the device was in the glove compartment of plaintiff’s vehicle, the Court held that plaintiff failed to establish a cause of action for the tort of invasion of privacy.

The case is annexed here – Villanova v. Innovative Investigations