A British stunt double for actress Angelina Jolie sued News Corp. (NWS) alleging the media company hired private investigators to access her mobile phone voice-mail messages to seek information for news stories.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, is the first News Corp. (NWSA) has faced in the U.S. by someone claiming to have been a target of phone hacking, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.
Eunice Huthart of Liverpool, England, contends the intercepts occurred while she was working in California in 2004 and 2005, and affected her marriage and family life, according to the June 13 complaint.
News Corp.’s Sun and News of the World newspapers engaged in phone hacking “to publish and exploit news articles concerning the private and confidential affairs” of individuals “to boost circulation and thereby increase profits,” Huthart said in court papers.
Huthart said in the complaint that she sometimes didn’t receive messages left on her cell phone, and at one point her husband “suspected she was having an affair because she did not return his voice messages.”
Huthart was “despondent” because she missed overseas calls from her daughter, and “believed she had failed as a parent,” according the complaint. Huthart said she had worked with Jolie on films including “Beyond Borders,” “Tomb Raider II” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”
Huthart alleges she missed messages because rogue journalists tapping into her voice mail would erase it to thwart competition; let it move into “save” mode, eliminating the phone alert; or sometimes reset her PIN number, so she was unable to access her messages and they would eventually disappear.
In the complaint, she cites violation of U.S. wiretap laws and a California statute against privacy intrusion.
The New York-based company has been the focus of investigations during the past three years that uncovered alleged phone hacking and bribery at the two tabloids. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World after revelations that journalists had illegally accessed messages on the mobile phone of a murdered school girl.
Huthart seeks a jury trial, compensatory and punitive damages and return of ill-gotten proceeds from the hacking.
Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for News Corp., declined to comment on the filing.
In another lawsuit, in state court in Delaware, News Corp.’s directors agreed in April to a $139 million settlement of investors’ claims that they turned a blind eye to illegal conduct including phone hacking by employees.
Insurance covering News Corp.’s board will fund the settlement of lawsuits seeking to hold directors accountable for the scandal. As part of the settlement, News Corp. officials agreed to tighten oversight of the company’s operations and set up an anonymous whistle-blower hotline for tips about misconduct.
The case is Huthart v. News Corp., 2:13-cv-04253, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
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