Thompson v. Dulaney

The Cyber Blog IndiaCase Summary

Does the federal wiretapping statute provide an exception for interspousal wiretapping?

Thompson v. Dulaney
970 F.2d 744 : 61 USLW 2111
In the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Case Number 91-4089
Before Circuit Judge Ebel, Circuit Judge Barrett, and Senior District Judge Kane
Decided on July 23, 1992

Relevancy of the Case: Does the federal wiretapping statute provide an exception for interspousal wiretapping?

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • During the pendency of divorce proceedings, Dulaney taped several telephonic conversations between her husband, Thompson, and their children. These tapes were transcribed, and two transcripts were admitted in the divorce and custody proceedings in 1989.
  • Thompson, the plaintiff, brought a suit against his ex-wife, her parents, her experts in the proceedings, and her attorneys. He claimed that they had violated the federal wiretapping statute and were involved in a conspiracy to violate Title III.
  • The District Court ruled that Title III is inapplicable to this case, considering this is a domestic dispute. The court proceeded to grant the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
  • Thompson has appealed against this judgment of the District Court.

Prominent Arguments by the Counsels

  • The defendant’s counsel, appearing on behalf of Dulaney, submitted that the consent exception in Section 2511(2)9d) relieved her of liability.

Opinion of the Bench

  • Title III applies to interspousal wiretapping within the marital home, in line with judgments such as Pritchard v. Pritchard and Kempf v. Kempf. His claim would survive against his former wife but not her parents.
  • The first defendant, Dulaney, knew the circumstances surrounding the wiretapping of their children with the plaintiff father.

Final Decision

  • The court partially reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Ojasvi Gupta, an undergraduate student at the Faculty of Law, Banaras Hindu University, prepared this case summary during her internship with The Cyber Blog India in May/June 2022.