The Villanovas were married in 2000. Seven years later, Mrs Villanova hired investigators to find out if her husband was cheating. He was. As part of the investigation, the wife placed a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device in glove compartment of the family vehicle, which was primarily used by her husband. The GPS device sent information about its location over the internet to the wife. The husband argued placing this tracking device constituted a violation of his right to privacy. Villanova v. Innovative Investigations Inc. was argued in a New Jersey lower court and then in the appellant court, which made a ruling in 2011. The appeal court upheld the lower court’s decision and dismissed his complaint.
The appellant court ruled that the GPS tracking device did not violate the husband’s expectation of privacy based on the facts of this particular case. Although the husband was the primary driver of the vehicle, both spouses had ownership of the vehicle. Thus it was not unreasonable for the wife to access the vehicle and leave items in the vehicle.
The husband argued that because he sometimes used his vehicle for work he therefore had a higher expectation of privacy. However, since the vehicle was not insured for business use, the court found the use of the vehicle for some business purposes was insufficient to make a successful argument that he had a need for confidentiality.
The places where the husband drove the car was also of interest. While the plaintiff argued that many drivers go to private places “such as private parking garage, an impound yard, or a stretch of a lonely beach” there was no evidence that he did so during the period when his vehicle was being monitored by his wife. The husband did not drive his vehicle “out of the public view” such that he would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Therefore, the husband’s case was thrown out.
With this ruling, the burden to show a breach of the right to privacy in a GPS tracking case is now even harder for a spouse under surveillance. Since people often don’t know if a GPS device is tracking them, they generally don’t collect evidence to argue invasion of privacy.
Villanova v. Innovative Investigations Inc. tells us that in divorce cases, if one spouse has some sort of ownership of the vehicle, it is not an invasion of privacy for the other spouse to place tracking devices in the vehicle. So cheaters beware!
However, the law on this issue could have a different outcome with different facts.
If the vehicle had been a company car or if the person under surveillance had been frequenting private areas, the court may have entertained arguments this was an invasion of privacy.
To find out how to apply the law to your situation contact the Law Offices of Brian D. Perskin by visiting http://newyorkdivorceattorney.services