Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-4964-00). (Hon. John H. Bayly, Jr., Trial Judge).
Before Ruiz, Reid and Washington, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge
This case stems from a dispute over the non-renewal of appellant Catherine Danai's ("Ms. Danai") multi-year lease agreement with appellee Canal Square Associates ("Canal") for office space. After the trial court rendered judgment in favor of Canal for possession of the space, Ms. Danai filed a claim for invasion of privacy against Canal, alleging that Canal removed a discarded letter from her trash and used it against her in the possession lawsuit. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Canal. We affirm the judgment of the trial court, and hold that Ms. Danai had no reasonable expectation of privacy in trash collected from her office and placed with other office trash in a locked community room under the control of property managers for ultimate disposal off-site.
Ms. Danai is the President and Chief Executive Officer of PERS Travel, Inc. ("PERS"). On August 14, 1994, she entered into a five-year renewable lease with Canal for office space in a building located in the Northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia. On October 1, 1999, Canal filed a complaint for possession against PERS, claiming that PERS failed to renew its lease in a timely manner. During a bench trial on its complaint, Canal used a letter, which it had obtained from trash discarded by PERS, to impeach Ms. Danai's testimony as to her understanding of the renewal provision in her lease agreement. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of Canal. Subsequently, Ms. Danai filed a complaint against Canal on July 3, 2000, alleging invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.*fn1
With respect to her invasion of privacy claim (count one of the complaint), Ms. Danai alleged, in part, that Canal's "search of [her] trash constituted an intentional intrusion into [her] private affairs and an invasion of her privacy . . . [and was] of a character highly offensive to a reasonable man." In the "undisputed issues/stipulations" section of their joint pre-trial statement, Ms. Danai and Canal agreed on certain basic facts:
Trash collected from the various commercial suites is accumulated in the buildings' trash room. Management exercises control and authority over the buildings' trash room, the contents therein and ultimately disposes of trash off-site.
On or about March 30, 1999, [Ms. Danai] wrote correspondence addressed to [Canal], then subsequently tore up and discarded same in the trash.
Canal retrieved [the discarded correspondence] from the buildings' trash room and presented same as impeachment evidence during a bench trial . . . in a commercial landlord tenant matter involving the parties.
Canal moved for summary judgment contending it "did not intrude on any physical space in which [Ms. Danai] had any recognizable privacy interest," and that she "relinquished any legitimate expectation of privacy" in the trash she discarded. The trash is collected from commercial and retail offices and suites in the building and put in a community trash room where "access is generally limited to management personnel in the building." Ms. Danai opposed Canal's motion for summary judgment; she declared in part in her attached affidavit:
As to my expectations of privacy relative to material placed in the trash baskets in my office, I always assumed that my Landlord would handle these in a manner so that no one else had access to the material placed in the trash cans. In fact, the collected trash was kept, to my knowledge, in a locked room under the control of the property managers. I never conceived that the property managers, themselves, would invade my privacy and pick through my trash looking for evidence to use against me . . . .
[M]uch of my private, personal correspondence was done by me in hand-written letters or memos, which I would fax to the recipient and then throw away the ...