By Adam H. Greene

On Nov. 30, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments in Federal Aviation Administration v. Cooper, No. 10-1024. At issue in the case is whether the plaintiff is entitled to damages under the Privacy Act of 1974 for emotional distress caused by the government’s disclosure of his HIV status, including “sleeplessness, loss of appetite, physical tension, agitation, isolation from friends and anxiety.”

While the case most directly impacts the Privacy Act of 1974 (which generally only applies to federal agencies), a Supreme Court precedent establishing damages for emotional harm due to loss of privacy could have a far larger impact. For example, more and more breaches of information are leading to class action lawsuits that may succeed or fail based on whether the plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for the alleged anxiety and other emotional harm resulting from the breach. A finding in favor of the plaintiff in Cooper could significantly bolster the arguments of plaintiffs in these class action suits. Stay tuned for the resolution of this case.

More information can be found here in a New York Times story.