Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Texas Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court; Finds for Media Appellants in Defamation Case

In Associated Press v. Boyd, the media appellants challenged the denial of summary judgment motions in a defamation suit brought by an attorney over published articles that summarized the attorney's alleged involvement in an ongoing matter being investigated by the SEC. "Neither article expressly stated the SEC lawsuit against Boyd was a civil proceeding or that the SEC does not prosecute criminal violations of federal securities laws." The attorney filed a defamation suit against the media involved "alleging the gist of the articles gave the false impression that the SEC was criminally prosecuting [him] for securities fraud by making untrue representations, omitting material facts and misleadingly justaposing events."

Boyd argued that the entire import of the articles implied that he was being "criminally prosecuted by the SEC for securities fraud". Said the court, "[a] publication can convey a defamatory meaning by omitting or juxtaposing facts, even though each individual statement considered alone might be literally true or nondefamatory....A plaintiff alleging defamatory based on an article as a whole must provde the article's "gist" or "sting" is false and defamatory....In such a case, the plaintiff may recover even if the discrete facts are literally or substantially true, provided they are published in such a way that they create a substantially false and defamatory impression by omitting material facts or justaposing facts in a misleaing way."

According to the appellate court, what creates the "sting" of the articles was not the omission of "whether it was a criminal or civil proceeding" but the accurate information relating to the investigation of his activities. "Here it is undisputed that Boyd had been accused of the unlawful conduct of participating in securities fraud. The forum in which those accusations were made, be it criminal or civil, did not materially affect the sting caused by the accurately reported allegations of Boyd's participation in a fraudulent scheme."

Based on its reading of the articles in question, the court reversed the finding of the trial court. Read the opinion here.

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