Van Alstyne v. Electronic Scriptorium, Inc.

Fourth Circuit in Van Alstyne v. Electronic Scriptorium, Inc., Re: Workplace email

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From the decision:

During Bonnie Van Alstyne’s employment with Electronic

Scriptorium Limited ("ESL"), ESL’s president, Edward Leonard, began accessing her personal email account. Van Alstyne discovered Leonard’s actions, which continued for more than a year after Van Alstyne left ESL, while litigating an unrelated matter with ESL in Virginia state court. Thereafter, Van Alstyne brought suit under the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 2707(a)("SCA"), alleging that Leonard and ESL illegally accessed her personal email account. Following trial, a jury awarded Van Alstyne $150,000 in statutory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages against Leonard. The jury awarded an additional $25,000 in statutory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages against ESL. The district court also awarded Van Alstyne $135,723.56 in attorney’s fees and costs.

On appeal, ESL and Leonard contend that the district court erred in permitting the jury to award: (1) statutory damages of $1,000 per violation of the SCA; (2) punitive damages; and (3) attorney’s fees, without first finding that Van Alstyne suffered actual damages. We agree with ESL and Leonard in part, concluding that plaintiffs pursuing claims under the SCA must prove actual damages in order to be eligible for an award of statutory damages. We disagree, however, that this requirement holds for punitive damages or attorney’s fees. Accordingly, we vacate the awards in favor of Van Alstyne and remand for further proceedings.

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Reference Info:Decision | Federal, 4th Circuit, Virginia | United States


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