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No right to privacy as to discarded office trash

A tenant has no expectation of privacy in discarded trash in a locked communal garbage storage area, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held on Dec. 2, in an apparent case of first impression. Danai v. Canal Square Assocs., No. 02-CV-126.

Catherine Danai, the president and CEO of a travel firm, had a multiyear lease for office space with Canal Square Associates. Canal’s office management company rummaged through trash Danai had discarded in a locked communal garbage storage area, and obtained a document, which it used to impeach Danai’s testimony in a civil action over the renewal of her lease. Danai sued Canal for invasion of privacy. A trial court granted summary judgment to Canal.

Affirming, the District of Columbia’s high court held that Danai had no reasonable expectation of privacy in trash collected from her office and placed in a communal garbage-storage area. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in California v. Greenwood in which the high court held that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in curbside garbage, the D.C. court said, “Here, admittedly Ms. Danai did not place her garbage ‘at the curb’ but she did convey it to a third party, the property managers, who in turn made arrangements for discarding it to yet another party, the outside trash collector. Thus, as in Greenwood, the property managers and the trash collector could have been expected to sort through Ms. Danai’s trash and permit others to do the same.”