WOLFE v. SCHAEFER (August 31, 2010)
Mervin Wolfe ran an unsuccessful campaign for Cumberland County State's Attorney in 2008 against Barry Schaefer, the incumbent. Wolfe brought suit against Schaefer and others (with whom he had a long history) pursuant to § 1983. He alleges that the defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they published the fact that he was under investigation by certain state agencies as part of their attempt to defeat his campaign. Judge Scott (C.D. Ill.) dismissed the complaint. Wolfe appeals.
In their opinion, Judges Posner, Wood, and Hamilton affirmed. The Court noted that the state law required the investigations be kept confidential. But Wolfe did not allege a violation of state law -- he alleged that the state law granted him a constitutional right. The Court recognized that a state law can create a liberty or property interest protected by the due process clause. There is also a common law breach of privacy tort, including one that protects an unreasonable interference with one's private life. The issue for the Court was whether any of this rose to the level of a protected property or liberty interest. The Supreme Court has not held that disclosure of private information violates the due process clause. In Whalen, it suggested that the disclosure of certain private information might do so -- but in Paul v. Davis held that one's reputation is not constitutionally protected. The courts of appeals have used Whalen to recognize certain constitutionally protected privacy rights. Although the Court recognized that certain situations might give rise to a constitutional right to privacy, it concluded that Wolfe's case was at the other end of the continuum. Information regarding the investigations of a candidate for public office is a matter of significant public interest. Wolfe's complaint was properly dismissed.