$575,250 award in video lawsuit - Ann Arbor News 2/8/03 #2

Woman taped while changing clothes sued Brighton talent agency operator

Saturday, February 8, 2003

BY TOM TOLEN
News Staff Reporter

HOWELL - A Livingston County jury on Friday awarded more than half a million dollars to a woman who was videotaped while she changed clothes in the office of a now-closed Brighton talent agency.

The $575,250 award was the verdict of a five-person jury that deliberated for about four hours after listening to two days of testimonies in a civil suit filed against the owner of the agency, Dennis McVittie.

The award included $325,000 in damages for invasion of privacy, $250,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress and a statutorily set $250 for violation of the Consumer Protection Act, which protects citizens from unscrupulous activities by business people.

The woman who filed the suit, a 23-year-old from Birmingham, testified during the trial that she was humiliated by the incident and is no longer pursuing her dream of being a model. She also said she will never be able to trust people again.

During closing arguments, her attorney, Whitney Lemelin of Farmington Hills, told jurors that his client suffered emotional distress that would last a lifetime.

"She will have to live with...the agony of not knowing if the videos are disseminated and will ever appear on a movie screen or on the Internet," he said. "It will haunt her for the rest of her life."

McVittie, who was not present for the trial, served 16 months in prison after pleading no contest to eavesdropping charges in connection with the videotaping incidents.

Police said at least 33 aspiring models and dancers, including some minors, were videotaped while changing clothes in the offices of the Dancin' & More Talent Studio, which McVittie operated at 101 Brookside. Police began investigating, and confiscated the videotapes, after a client reported that she heard the noise of a videocassette recorder while she was changing clothes at the agency.

McVittie later was arrested and charged with three counts of eavesdropping. He was sentenced Aug. 9, 2001, to 16-24 months in prison, and was released on parole in December.

According to Livingston County Circuit Court records, two other women also filed civil suits against McVittie since the investigation. Both were settled without going to trial.

Lemelin said he is not sure if the substantial jury award in his client's case will necessarily open the door to other victims. "It's hard to say," he said.

McVittie's attorney, Sean Zaras of Plymouth, did not return calls Friday after the verdict was announced. He has 28 days to file an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

During closing arguments, Zaras asked the jury to limit damages in the case to $15,000. He told jurors that the woman had neither sought professional counseling nor taken medication as a result of the incidents.

"She has no physical symptoms," Zaras said. "Her damages are purely emotional; she has lost no money for out-of-pocket medical expenses."

During trial testimony, the woman said she sought assistance from her mother, who is a licensed social worker and who testified in the trial.

"If she would go to any (modeling) agency she would be afraid to change any clothing, not knowing if something like that would happen again," the mother said in court.

The woman told jurors that she learned about the videotapes after seeing a television report about the police investigation at the Brighton talent agency. She said she went to police and, after viewing some of the tapes, identified herself on one of them. She told police she had gone to the studios several times for photo sessions, but investigators were able to find only one video showing footage of her.

Tom Tolen covers Livingston County. He can be reached at
tolen@ismi.net or (810) 225-8637.