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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Decide Right to Damages for HIV-Positive Pilot Who Sued for Privacy Violation

Posted Jun 21, 2011 9:55 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a person who suffers no financial losses can recover damages under a Watergate-era privacy law.

The case could determine the scope of the 1974 Privacy Act, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. James Wood, the lawyer for plaintiff Stanmore Cooper, told the newspaper that appeals courts are divided on whether plaintiffs can recover damages for emotional distress under the law. "More often than not, embarrassment and humiliation are the only damages," Wood said. "Unless these are compensable, it's a free license to the government" to break the law.

Cooper sued after the Social Security Administration gave his medical records revealing he was HIV-positive to the Federal Aviation Administration. The disclosure caused Cooper to lose his pilot’s license because he had not revealed the diagnosis at a time when the FAA refused to give licenses to anyone taking medication for the AIDS virus, Courthouse News Service reports. The records were turned over as part of a joint investigation aimed at ferreting out medically unfit people with licenses to fly.

The case is FAA v. Cooper. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the cert grant.

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