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Assisted Living Facility Not Entitled to Summary Judgment Where Cognitively Impaired Resident Filmed Nude

In Jones v. Life Care Centers of America (Tenn .Ct. Appeals 2023), a cognitively impaired resident was assisted in the shower by staff. While doing so, the employee took a call from her incarcerated boyfriend which showed the resident’s nude body. The assisted living facility moved for summary judgment after alleging the resident showed no knowledge of the incident and, therefore, no distress or embarrassment. The trial court ruled for the assisted living facility and dissed the case. On appeal, the Court found that the complaint stated a claim for invasion of privacy based upon the distinct tort of intrusion upon seclusion. Actual damages are not an essential element of a claim for invasion of privacy based on the distinct tort of intrusion upon seclusion. The Court also ruled that granting leave to amend the complaint would not have been futile. Accordingly, the trial court’s decision was reversed.

The Court held:

The present case is a rare one in which Ms. Jones was unaware of the intrusion on her private affairs and, as such, provides no evidence of mental or emotional ramifications. Additionally, it is undisputed that she suffered no actual or economic damages. Even so, we would consider it a detriment to public policy to condone intrusions upon the seclusion of the most vulnerable—those unable to comprehend that the intrusion is occurring— without the possibility of redress or consequence. Further, the above authorities reveal the long-held position that the intrusion itself is the injury, that a claim for intrusion upon seclusion does not require actual damages to survive a motion for summary judgment, and that Ms. Jones is afforded the opportunity to “recover damages for the deprivation of [her] seclusion.” Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652H cmt. a. (1977). The Restatement treats such damages for the privacy harm of deprivation of seclusion as distinct from damages for emotional distress and personal humiliation. See id. at § 652H cmts. a & b.

For the foregoing reasons, we have determined that the gravamen of the complaint is a claim for intrusion upon Ms. Jones’s seclusion, which does not require a showing of actual damages as an essential element.

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