Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, March 18, 2005

7th Circuit Affirms Dismissal in HarperCollins Case

In an unpublished order, released March 4, 2005, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that Gayle Raveling, the ex-sister-in-law of a former Willow Springs, Illinois police chief now in prison after his conviction on conspiracy and RICO charges, had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted in her case against HarperCollins Publishers, when she sued for false light invasion of privacy under Illinois law. The plaintiff had originally filed in state court in September 2003, charging that in the book Double Deal: The Inside Story of Murder, Unbridled Corruption, and the Cop Who Was a Mobster, the caption for a photograph of Ms. Raveling holding her godson, the police chief's son, identified her as "my sister-in-law, Gail Barone" in company with the infant's godfather, described in the book as the individual "who ran the Chicago mob's North Side crew." Equally unsavory to Ms. Raveling's mind was the fact that the photograph was on the same page as "a picture of a Cadillac being pulled from a Chicago sanitary canal. According to the caption, the car's trunk concealed the decomposed body of Dianne Masters, the murdered wife of Corbitt's codefendant Alan Masters." HarperCollins removed to federal court later that year.

On February 9, 2004 the district court granted HarperCollins' motion to dismiss, stating that the "mere inclusion" of the photograph did not place Ms. Raveling in a false light. Raveling moved for reconsideration and for leave to file an amended complaint; the district court denied both motions.

The appellate court examined Ms. Raveling's false light claim carefully, using the standard articulated by the Supreme Court of Illinois in Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting (plaintiff placed in a false light as a result of defendant's actions; factfinder could decide that the false light would be highly offensive to reasonable person; plaintiff must allege and prove defendants acted with actual malice or reckless disregard). As to the first element, the appellate court concluded that the material published about Raveling was "substantially true." As to the second element, the court held that "a plain statement of one's family relatinoship to another person simply is not highly offensive to the reasonable person." Finally, the court decided that Raveling had not shown actual malice in that she had not demonstrated (indeed could not demonstrate) that HarperCollins had acted with knowledge of or reckless disregard toward the truth or falsity of the statements about her. While the appellate court was mildly critical of the district court's dismissal of Ms. Raveling's motion, saying that procedurally it should have handled it differently, it reiterated that "the factually accurate depiction of Ms. Raveling in this book simply cannot form the basis for a false light invasion of privacy claim. Because Ms. Raveling's proposed amended complain could not have survived another motion to dismiss, we think that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying her leave to file an amended complaint....Furthermore, although Ms. Raveling indicated her wish to file an amended complaint...under Illinois' Right of Publicity Act, 765 Ill. Comp. Stat. 1075/1 et seq., she did not attach a proposed amended complaint to her motion for reconsideration, nor did she provide anything beyond a cursory citation to the Right of Publicity Act...Therefore, we must conclude that the district court acted within its discretion when it denied Ms. Raveling's motion for leave to file an amended complaint."

The lower court decisions, Raveling v. HarperCollins, U. S. D.C. for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, dated June 30 and February 10, are available on LEXIS and WESTLAW. Neither is available in the Federal Supplement 2d.

The Illinois Right of Publicity Act is available here.

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