Judge Dismisses Angelina Jolie Stunt Double's Wiretapping Lawsuit
News Corp. successfully argues that if a claim is to come for intercepting voicemails for use in tabloid reports, it should proceed in the U.K.
Eunice Huthart, who worked as a stunt double for Angelina Jolie and claims to have had her voicemails intercepted, won't be able to pursue a wiretapping lawsuit against News Corp. in America.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that England would provide an adequate alternative forum to adjudicate her claims.
Huthart, a resident of Liverpool, England, sued last June, saying she first worked with Jolie in 2000 on the movies Beyond Borders and Tomb Raiders 2. She says she developed a close relationship with the actress and is a godmother to Jolie's first biological child. In 2004, Huthart said she was living with Jolie in a Brentwood, Los Angeles house while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith when she noticed suspicious activity about missed messages left on her cell phone system.
Later, Huthart says her name, cell number, account number and PIN number later surfaced in the notes of Glenn Mulcaire, the private investigator who worked for the News of the World and was jailed in January 2007. Putting two and two together, Huthart came to believe that intercepted communications was the source of tabloid reports about Jolie's future in the movie business and relationship with Brad Pitt.
News Corp., which shuttered News of the World during the unfolding saga about use of phone hacking, challenged the claims for being in the wrong forum. The defendant pointed out that a U.K. citizen was suing over activities by U.K. reporters at a U.K. publication, with the assistance of a U.K. private investigator, that had allegedly accessed the voicemail of plaintiff’s U.K. cellular telephone account.
Furthermore, News Corp. pointed the judge's attention to a compensation scheme that had been set up in the U.K. with 426 applicants, 359 invitations to join and 272 settlements.
At a hearing in February, Judge Fitzgerald expressed an inclination to have the dispute resolved in the U.K despite his own stated "personal desire" to handle it here. "Certainly the thought that Ms. Jolie could be a witness, I think, would certainly not be a terrible thing," he said at the time.
The judge, though, wanted more briefing about whether Huthart would be able to bring her claims in the U.K.
Huthart's attorneys then argued that a tranche of hacking claims against News Corp had closed without firm indication about whether new claims would be accepted into the compensation scheme.
"While it is technically correct that if no MTVIL Tranche 3 is established, then Plaintiff can file suit in English Civil Court Proceedings, at best she would be thrust into the litigation equivalent of purgatory," say Huthart's court documents, further pointing to limitations in English privacy law on accessing, interfering with or preventing access to voicemail.
Huthart also made and argument about 21st Century Fox (which is picking up the tab for hacking) waving jurisdiction, but not News Corp. The defendants later filed a declaration that if Huthart also sues New News Corp. in England, New News Corp. would consent to personal jurisdiction.
"There appears to be no dispute at this point that both 21st Century and New News Corp. would be willing to submit to personal jurisdiction in England," rules Judge Fitzgerald on Wednesday. "Therefore, Huthart would be able to sue all Defendants in England."
The judge believes that Huthart will have an opportunity to address her alleged injuries there in some fashion. "English law recognizes claims for breach of confidence and misuse of private information," he writes. "Under English law, remedies for these claims include compensatory damages, account of profits, and injunctive relief. Moreover, England has enacted a number of statutes, which prohibit the interception of communications over telecommunication systems, the unauthorized disclosure of personal data, and the unauthorized accessing of data held on a computer."
As to the supposed limitations of English law, the judge isn't swayed. "The subject matter of Huthart’s claim is not limited to the allegation that Defendants and their agents simply accessed or interfered with her voicemails," he writes. "Rather, those allegations are part and parcel of a scheme, in which Defendants and their agents are alleged to have intercepted and obtained the information in Huthart’s voicemails to use such information in tabloid stories."
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