SE Texas Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Appeals court reverses invasion of privacy ruling in Travis Law Firm case

By Charmaine Little | May 14, 2018

HOUSTON – A more than $24,000 judgment in favor of a law firm in an invasion of privacy case was reversed by the Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas in a May 10 opinion.

The appeals court reversed and remanded the 333rd District Court of Harris County's decision after appellant Jeffrey L. Doggett challenged its ruling in favor of The Travis Law Firm, formerly known as Travis & Hammond. The Travis Law Firm filed a lawsuit against Doggett after he allegedly violated invasion of privacy regulations via utilizing name or likeness.

The opinion states that issues came after Doggett started a working relationship with the law firm that was then known as Travis & Hammond. Doggett said he used an email address. While partner William D. Hammond said Doggett had his permission, Gregory R. Travis argued against that, the opinion states.

The partnership between Doggett and the law firm went awry when he allegedly used the email address while corresponding with a client outside of the company clientele. The woman later sued the law firm alleging Doggett committed malpractice. The Travis Law Firm sued Doggett over allegations of invasion of privacy by appropriation of name or likeness and later added fraud, fraud by nondisclosure and breach of contract. The trial court rewarded Travis Law Firm with $24,279.31 in damages in August 2016.

Doggett mentioned several concerns in his appeal as he pointed out The Travis Law Firm could not move forward with the invasion of privacy lawsuit: one, a business is not protected by right to privacy; and two, the law firm did not provide evidence at trial that its name had a specific worth, if any, that Doggett had direct benefit from associating himself with the law firm, that the law firm experienced damage because of Doggett using its name.

The third concern Doggett mentioned in the appeal is that evidence showed the law firm allowed Doggett to use its name, the law firm was blocked from complaining about Doggett using its name.  

The appeals court pointed out the state courts do not acknowledge a corporation’s right to privacy by appropriation of name or likeness. Therefore, it added it would not recognize the law firm’s right to privacy. It added the law firm does not have the ability to recover for invasion of privacy by appropriation of name or likeness. It reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision.

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Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas