Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Tort Claims for Trespass to Realty, Conversion, and Invasion of Privacy

On August 21, 2014, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided Greenpeace, Inc. v. Dow Chemical Co., No. 13-CV-685, slip op. (D.C. Aug. 21, 2014) in which it reviewed the trial court’s dismissal of tort claims for trespass to realty, conversion, and invasion of privacy by intrusion. Id. at 2-3. By way of background, the claims for trespass to realty and conversion were based on the defendants’ alleged involvement in “rummaging through the [plaintiff’s] trash in search of ‘trade secrets’ and other confidential information.” Id. at 2. The alleged “rummaging” occurred in common areas designated for trash and recycling at multi-tenant office buildings in which the plaintiff leased office space. Id. at 5-7. The claim for invasion of privacy by intrusion was likewise based on allegations of “corporate espionage.” Id. at 2, 7. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the grounds that: (1) dismissal of the claim for trespass to realty was proper because such a claim must be based on an invasion of a “possessory” interest in realty, and the plaintiff did not have “a recognized possessory interest in the trash and recycling areas of its office buildings, meaning the ability to control and exclude others from using those areas,” id. at 11-14 (emphasis removed); (2) dismissal of the claim for conversion was proper because such a claim cannot be based on abandoned property, and, as a matter of law, the plaintiff abandoned the subject property (physical documents and the contents thereof) by allowing it to be collected and placed in common areas for disposal by a third party, id. at 18-21; and (3) dismissal of the claim for invasion of privacy by intrusion was proper because invasion of privacy claims are subject to a one-year statute of limitations, and the plaintiff filed its claim for invasion of privacy after the one-year statute of limitations expired, id. at 14-18. The Court of Appeals’ opinion appears to be the first in which it “explicitly decided what statute of limitations to impose on invasion of privacy claims.” Id. at 15. For further information about the torts of trespass to realty, conversion, and invasion of privacy by intrusion in the District of Columbia, see Tort Claims and Defenses in the District of Columbia, §§ 5, 7, 18-19 (2014).