Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, June 10, 2005

1st Circuit Upholds District Court Decision In "Madonna Boyfriend" Case

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has affirmed the district court's ruling in Amrak Productions v. Morton, in which James Albright, "a former bodyguard and lover of Madonna, and his corporate agent, Amrak Productions" had claimed that the defendants "allegedly portrayed Albright as a homosexual by miscaptioning a picture of a homosexual individual with Albright's name in a book and magazines. The district court dismissed appellants' claims, finding that for the `photograph [to] make[] any kind of statement regarding Albright's sexuality requires the Court to pile inference upon innuendo, innuendo upon stereotype.'..."

While limiting the grounds upon which it upheld the district court's ruling, the appellate court found that the lower court judge was justified in finding that the photograph complained of was "not reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning. Nothing in Guitierez's appearance, particularly given the accompanying caption stressing Albright's heterosexuality (e.g.,  Madonna's "secret lover"), gives any indication that Albright is homosexual. To draw such an inference, the read--who would have to view homosexuals with "scorn, hatred, ridicule or contempt,"...--must follow Madonna and her cohort closely enough to recognize Guitierez as a gay man, but not closely enough to know Guitierez's name or what Albright looks like. Few, if any, readers would fall into this "considerable and respectable segment in the community."...The context of the text accompanying the photography further deflates any argument that the photo conveys a defamatory meaning. When we "consider all the words used" in the accompanying text...--including phrases such as Albrights' "long-time girlfriend," his "hot and heavy affair" with Madonna, their sexual encounters, and Albright's "fling" with a "girl at a club"--we find that no reasonable reader could conclude that Albright is homosexual....Given appellants' failure to satisfy the threshold question of defamatory meaning, we affirm the court's dismissal of the defamatory claim."

Read the decision here.

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