Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New York Court Dismisses Defamation Suit Against Newspaper; Finds Headline Was "Fair Index" Of Article

The New York Supreme Court, New York County, has granted a newspaper's motion to dismiss in a defamation action brought by plaintiffs who alleged that the newspaper's coverage of their arrest amounted to "libel (first cause of action), libel per se (second cause of action), negligent infliction of emotional distress (third cause of action), intentional infliction of emotional distress (fourth cause of action) and negligence (fifth cause of action)."

The newspaper argued that "(i) the article is a fair and true report of a judicial proceeding and therefore absolutely privileged pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 74; (ii) the complained-of article is substantially true; and (iii) the defendants were not grossly irresponsible in publishing the article."

The plaintiffs claimed, however, that "the defendants are not immune from a civil suit for libel because the article, and specifically the headline, did not merely report on those judicial proceedings, but falsely represented without including the word, “allegedly”, that a heinous and despicable crime occurred, and included material which was not contained in the criminal complaint."

According to the court, "...[T]he headline of the article “must be read and evaluated in conjunction with the text it precedes....If the headline is a fair index of an accurate article, it does not give rise to a cause of action....Moreover, where, as here, “the content of the article is arguably within the sphere of legitimate public concern, which is reasonably related to matters warranting public exposition,” the party defamed may recover only if he is able to “establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the publisher acted in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties.” ...Defendants contend that plaintiffs cannot meet their burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that they acted in a “grossly irresponsible manner”, since defendant Weiss has detailed in a sworn affidavit his efforts to gather and verify information prior to the publication of the article which included (i) calling the Public Information Office for the New York County District Attorney's Office (“the DA's office”) on or about July 18 or 19, 2004 to obtain details of the arrest and to obtain a copy of the criminal complaint, and (ii) contacting the Press Office for the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) to obtain additional information regarding the plaintiffs’ arrests and to confirm the information which he received from the DA's Office....Although plaintiffs argue that there are triable issues of facts as to whether The Post acted in a grossly irresponsible manner...plaintiffs have not submitted any evidence to refute defendant Weiss’ affidavit. Accordingly, based on the papers submitted and the oral argument held on the record on January 31, 2007, this Court finds that the statements contained in the article in question do not give rise to an actionable claim for libel or libel per se."

The case is Corso v. NYP Holdings Inc., 2007 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 6661; 238 N.Y.L.J. 59; 35 Med.L.Rptr. 2286;(N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2007).

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