There is an interesting controversy in the news related to former Daily Show “correspondent” Rob Riggle who appears to be in the midst of a divorce that makes the Depp-Heard divorce look like an amicable split. The recent reported discovery by Riggle of a surveillance camera raises some interesting criminal and tort dimensions to a divorce that seems to be snowballing out of control.
Riggle’s estranged wife Tiffany is staying in the family’s large home with their two kids during the divorce. Riggle recently confronted her on $28,000 in emergency money that was missing from his home office and she denied taking it. He also says that he noticed that she was referencing privacy conversations with his girlfriend and others.
Riggle said that he decided to create a false flag operation by stating things that were untrue in his home to see if they were repeated in anonymous texts and emails that he was receiving. They were and he searched his home. He states that he found a surveillance device hidden in a smoke alarm and more than 10,000 videos on the camera’s memory. Those recordings allegedly include one of Tiffany installing the device as well as sitting on the floor and counting money that he claims was the missing $28,000.
First and foremost, this would be a whale of a defamation case, if any of this is false. He is alleging potentially criminal conduct that would constitute per se defamation under common law.
If true, the conduct would constitute both criminal and tort violations. Tiffany could argue that the money was still part of the joint assets of the marriage. However, if the money is linked to his business or clearly part of his sole estate or assets, it would obviously constitute a serious felony of theft.
The camera would certainly allow for a couple of torts. The first would depend on whether this information was made public to satisfy the element of the tort of public disclosure of embarrassing private facts:
652D Publicity Given to Private Life
One who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the matter publicized is of a kind that (a) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (b) is not of legitimate concern to the public.
There is little question about this being highly offensive to any reasonable person. Moreover, even though Riggle is a public figure, most courts are likely to question this as a matter of legitimate public interest in his discussions with his girlfriend.
The second tort is clearly established on these facts if proven true: inclusion upon seclusion.
Under the Second Restatement, citizens may sue for violations of the intrusion upon seclusion:
652B Intrusion Upon Seclusion
One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
The house may be part of the joint estate but Riggle’s house was presumably understood as his secluded space and not open to his estranged wife. This seems likely given presence of his girlfriend. Riggle had an expectation of privacy and likely a right to exclude her from the space. This could be challenged, of course, if she had keys to the house, but she is accused of secreting surveilling and videotaping her estranged husband.
Again, the extensive surveillance would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. There is a division on such privacy torts among the states. Some states find a violation in the placement of a camera or other recording device even without anyone else seeing or viewing the plaintiff with the device. See e.g. Hamberger v. Eastman (N.H. 1964); Hernandez v. Hillsides, Inc. (Cal. 2009). Other states have taken the view that someone else must actually see, hear, or observe the plaintiff to state a claim for intrusion upon seclusion; in other words, there must be acquisition of information about the plaintiff.
In this case, Tiffany is accused of watching the videos since she allegedly made reference to private conversations in the home.
Of course, the commission of torts or criminal acts can have great bearing on divorce proceedings and custody decisions. Moreover, since you generally have two years to file a tort action, Riggle could possibly wait for the division of the estate to be finalized and then sue his former wife for some of the money back in the form of damages. Thus, her counsel may seek a waiver of such liability as part of a settlement agreement — resolving any and all claims of either party.
In order words, this case could cut across criminal and tort lines in a myriad of different ways. In the end, the divorce is likely to demonstrate Henny Youngman’s point that “you know why divorces are so expensive? Because they’re worth it.”