Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Company

The Cyber Blog IndiaCase Summary

Does intercepting personal calls on company telephones fall under the scope of "ordinary course of business"?

 Carnie Watkins v. L.M. Berry & Company, et al.
704 F.2d 577
In the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Case Number 82-7007
Before Chief Judge Goldbold, Circuit Judge Fay, and Circuit Judge Smith
Decided on May 02, 1983

Relevancy of the Case: Does intercepting personal calls on company telephones fall under the scope of “ordinary course of business”?

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2520
  • The Federal Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 605

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • The appellant was an employee permitted to make personal calls on company telephones that are not to be monitored except to the extent necessary to determine whether a particular call is of a personal or business nature.
  • She received a personal call from a friend who enquired about the appellant’s employment interview with another company. She responded positively.
  • Her immediate supervisor allegedly overheard the same and tried to fire her. After this altercation, she left this company to join a new company. She has sued her former employer, alleging violation of the federal wiretapping statute. This is an appeal against the District Court’s judgement that favoured her employer.

Prominent Arguments by the Counsels

  • The defendant’s counsel argued that the appellant’s acceptance of employment with knowledge of the monitoring policy constituted her consent to the interception. Such interception falls under the scope of the ordinary course of business.

Opinion of the Bench

  • The scope of consent is subjective, and she consented to monitoring sales calls, not personal calls.
  • There was no consent to intercept a call beyond what was initially required to determine its nature.
  • The phrase “ordinary course of business” cannot be expanded to mean anything that interests a company.
  • Moreover, the District Court’s fact-finding mission for this case was below average as genuinely disputed issues of material fact still remain.

Final Decision

  • The court reversed the judgement and remanded the case to the District Court for claims against the first defendant.

Upama Nandy, an undergraduate student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune, prepared this case summary during her internship with The Cyber Blog India in January/February 2023.