Based partially upon an interpretation of Florida law, in Global Policy Partners, LLC, et al. v. Yessin, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112472 (Nov. 24, 2009), a Virginia district court has ruled that an LLC’s partner does not always have the authority to access a partner’s e-mails simply by virtue of his status in the company.

Katherine and Brent Yessin, husband and wife and business partners, were feuding as part of a messy divorce and business dissolution. Mrs. Yessin, on behalf of herself and the Florida business, brought suit against Mr. Yessin for his alleged illegal access of her personal e-mails, including those containing attorney-client communications in her divorce case, stored on the company’s server in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), 18 U.S.C. §1030(a), and other federal and state statutes. In a motion to dismiss his wife’s complaint, Mr. Yessin argued that under Florida law, as a manager/partner in his business, he had the authority to access all e-mails stored on the business’s computer server regardless of his reason for doing so. The court disagreed.

The court found that even assuming Florida law authorized managers to access e-mail information stored on a company’s computer system, authorization is limited to carrying out the company’s business. Likewise, under the CFAA, authorization to access a computer system may not simply be based on a person’s status within the organization, but whether the person is accessing information in accordance with the “expected norms or intended use” of the computer network. Because the scope of Mr. Yessin’s authority to access his wife’s e-mails depended upon a detailed factual inquiry into his purposes for doing so, Mr. Yessin’s motion to dismiss the CFAA counts of the complaint was denied and Mrs. Yessin was allowed to proceed in her action.

Caution for employers: This decision has implications for employers in how and why managers may access employee e-mails. While an employer generally has the right to review stored e-mails on the employer’s system, regardless of whether the e-mails are an employee’s personal or business communications, the employer or employer’s agent must have a legitimate business purpose for such review, not a nefarious reason. Note, however, that, some courts have limited an employer’s ability to review an employee’s e-mails in other situations, such as when the e-mail is subject to the attorney-client privilege. Employers’ policies and procedures for accessing employee e-mails should be periodically reviewed and revised, where necessary, to ensure that the individuals who access lawfully stored e-mails not only have the appropriate status within the company, but also are doing so for legitimate business purposes.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.