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McLain v. Boise Cascade Corporation – Case Brief Summary (Oregon)

In McLain v. Boise Cascade Corporation, 271 Ore. 549, 533 P.2d 343 (Or. 1975), the appellant sued his employer for invasion of privacy and trespass because, after appellant had asserted a worker's compensation claim, the employer hired an investigator who trespassed onto plaintiff's property and conducted surveillance without plaintiff's knowledge.

The surveillance produced film and photos that were used against appellant at the worker's compensation hearing.

After noting that appellant's involvement in the worker's compensation suit lessened his expectation of privacy "to the extent of a reasonable investigation," the Supreme Court of Oregon rejected the argument that trespass constituted an invasion of privacy:

(1) the surveillance and picture taking were done in such an unobtrusive manner that plaintiff was not aware that he was being watched and filmed...

(2) plaintiff conceded that his activities which were filmed could have been observed by his neighbors or passers by on the road running in front of his property.

(3) undoubtedly the investigators trespassed on plaintiff's land while watching and taking pictures of him, but ... the trespass did not constitute an unreasonable surveillance "highly offensive to a reasonable man...

We think that trespass is only one factor to be considered in determining whether the surveillance was unreasonable.

Trespass to peer in windows and to annoy or harass the occupant may be unreasonable. Trespass alone cannot automatically change an otherwise reasonable surveillance into an unreasonable one. The one trespass which was observed by plaintiff did not alert him to the fact that he was being watched or that his activities were being filmed.

The record is clear that the trespass was confined to a narrow strip along the east boundary of plaintiff's property. All the surveillance in this case was done during daylight hours and when plaintiff was exposed to public view by his neighbors and passers by. (533 P.2d at 346-347.)