There is an interesting privacy case out of New York where an actress was forced to reveal her identity as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Amazon’s website IMDb. Huong Hoang, 40, tried to file anonymously after accusing Amazon of harming her by disclosing her Asian name and age. The federal judge however gave her two weeks to put her name on the lawsuit or face dismissal.
Hoang alleges that IMDb harmed her by publishing her real age when she has played younger women in what is described as “B-list” movies like “Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver” and “Hoodrats 2: Hoodrat Warriors.” She used her stage name of Junie Hoang to, according to her complaint, avoid the potential “cultural disadvantage” of her ethnic name. Her privacy lawsuit alleges that she was unaware of the extent to which her private information would be farmed by Amazon by obtaining her credit care. See the complaint below.
There certainly appears a credible complaint over the access to private information, but the injury could prove difficult when it is likely that her age and ethnic background would become known to employers in the course of her work. She is seeking $1 million.
She is proceeding under a variety of claims:
Count One: Breach of Contract
Count Two: Fraud
Count Three:Washington’s Privacy Act
Count Four: Washington’s Consumer Protection Act
The privacy claim is not therefore an intrusion upon seclusion claim. As a statutory claim, it is the act of interception or obtaining private information that is the crux of the action. Yet, she is seeking $1 million in punitive damages which is not likely to be viewed as credible to the court. What is interesting is that she is seeking only $75,000 in compensatory damages. Yet, the Supreme Court has struck down punitive awards that exceed a 10 to 1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages. While once treated as the domain of state law and federalism, the Supreme Court has handed down a series of decisions striking down punitive damage awards based on the due process clause. In a case with similarly great ratio in Gore v. BMW, for example, the Supreme Court struck down an award to Dr. Ira Gore after he found that his new BMW had been repainted at that dealership without informing him. An Alabama jury awarded $4,000 in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. The amount was later reduced to $2 million by the Alabama Supreme Court but then struck down by the Supreme Court.
Putting aside the ratio problem, this could come down to a factual disagreement and any dismissal motion would require such facts to be read in her favor. She may be entitled to put on experts to show, as she alleges, that “[l]esser-known 40-year-old actresses are not in demand in the movie business.”
Here is the lawsuit: HoangvAmazon