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SPARSHOTT v. FELD ENTERTAINMENT

February 1, 2000

SHAN SPARSHOTT, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
FELD ENTERTAINMENT, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robertson, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs Shan and Morgan Sparshott assert federal and common law privacy violations stemming from defendants' alleged wiretapping and video surveillance of their activities at home and at work, by and through the actions of a former senior officer and director of Feld Entertainment, Inc. Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss all claims against Feld's wholly-owned subsidiary Sells-Floto, to dismiss the claims of conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Feld and to transfer the remainder of the case to the Eastern District of Virginia. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss Sells-Floto will be granted. The motion for partial dismissal and transfer as to Feld will be denied.

Background

Shan Sparshott has worked as a travel administrator at Feld's headquarters in Vienna, Virginia, since August 17, 1992. Feld Entertainment, Inc. is a privately owned company that has rights to certain exhibitions, shows and other public entertainment, including Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, Walt Disney's World on Ice and Siegfried & Roy. The other named defendant, Sells-Floto, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Feld. It manufactures and distributes circus supplies and related paraphernalia. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Charles F. Smith was a director, officer and stockholder of Feld and the senior vice president of Sells-Floto.

Plaintiffs allege that defendants, through the actions of Mr. Smith and other unnamed employees, caused the surreptitious placement of video cameras in the ceiling above Shan Sparshott's work space and the installation of electronic monitoring devices to record her telephone conversations.

Plaintiffs also allege privacy violations at their home. Shan and Morgan Sharshott were the sole occupants of a home located in McLean, Virginia. Mr. Smith owned the home. Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Smith and unnamed others caused the installation of electronic monitoring devices designed to permit electronic eavesdropping and recording of their telephone conversations, and that Mr. Smith even arranged for video recording of plaintiffs' private and intimate affairs.

On or about March 7, 1997, Shan Sparshott discovered that an electronic wiretapping device had been placed on her work telephone. She also discovered the existence of numerous videotapes of both plaintiffs engaged in various private and intimate activities in their home, and of Shan Sparshott at her office.

Plaintiffs filed their original complaint, only against Feld, on March 3, 1999. Feld moved to dismiss, plaintiffs opposed, and Feld replied. Plaintiffs then filed an amended superseding complaint on June 2, 1999, recasting some of their claims to avoid dismissal, and adding Sells-Floto, Inc. as an additional defendant. The amended complaint sets forth eleven causes of action. Those relevant to this motion may be grouped as follows:

Analysis

A. Claims Against Sells-Floto

The claims against Sells-Floto were added by an amended complaint filed June 2, 1999. It is undisputed that, unless the amendment relates back to the date of plaintiffs' original complaint, those claims are barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c) provides, in relevant part:

An amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when:
(1) relation back is permitted by the law that provides the statute of limitations applicable to the action, or
 
(3) . . . the party to be brought in by amendment (A) has received such notice of the institution of the action that the party will not be prejudiced in maintaining a defense on the merits, and (B) knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of ...

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