Media Law Prof Blog

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Louisiana State Univ.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Teenager Loses Defamation Suit Against Boston Magazine

In May 2003 Boston magazine published an article called "The Mating Habits of the Suburban High School Teenager", illustrated with a large photograph of teen Stacey Stanton. Although Stanton was not mentioned in the article, and although the magazine specifically stated that the photograph did not have any connection with the material discussed in the text, she claimed that the article defamed her. She sued Boston magazine and its parent company, Metro Corporation, for defamation and false light invasion of privacy under Mass. General Laws ch. 214 sec. 1B. After a careful analysis of the claims, the judge noted that while Massachusetts courts have accepted invasion of privacy claims, "[t]he bulk of the cases decided under the statute have concerned the dissemination of allegedly private information about a plaintiff... The SJC has also recognized a cause of action under the statute for intrusion into a person's private sphere. ..However, invasion of privacy actions of the "false light" variety are not recognized in Massachusetts . "[foonotes omitted] "Neither the complaint, nor plaintiff's opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss, make any explicit reference to claims for revelation of private information  or for intrusion into plaintiff's private sphere, or allege any specific facts to support such claims.  The photograph does not, for example, portray her in the ladies' room, or partially dressed, or in any other similar context that would ordinarily be intended to be private. Indeed, aside from the false light assertions, the invasion of privacy claim rests on the bare allegation that the unauthorized publication of plaintiff's photograph constituted an unreasonable, substantial, and serious interference with her privacy. Amended Complaint, PP 8-9. Plaintiff cannot press an invasion of privacy claim based solely on an allegation that amounts to little more than a legal conclusion."

However, the court was clearly troubled by the defendant's use of the photograph of a teenager otherwise unconnected with the story to illustrate this particular article. "[t]he use of plaintiff's photograph in this context appears to have been entirely gratuitous. The photograph was not used to illustrate an article about proms, or anything actually depicted in the photograph itself; it was used to illustrate a sensational article about relatively extreme forms of sexual behavior. It would have been easy to create an illustration with consenting subjects, or to obscure plaintiff's identity. Nor can this be said to be the product of newsgathering in haste; the publication is a monthly magazine, not a newspaper on a daily deadline, and presumably there was ample opportunity for reflective and considered editorial judgment prior to the selection of a photograph that was certain to embarrass its teenage subjects."

The case is Stanton v. Metro Corp., No. 04-10751-FDS (D. Mass. Mar. 7, 2005).

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