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Media Law

Knafel v. Chicago Sun-Times, et al.  413 F.3d 637 (7th Cir. 2005)The Seventh Circuit published an opinion unanimously affirming a judgment previously obtained by FVLD in a case charging defamation claim based on a newspaper column by Richard Roeper about the former mistress of NBA star Michael Jordan.  FVLD had obtained a judgment of dismissal for the Sun-Times in the United States District Court and Knafel appealed.  The Seventh Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Evans, resolved a potential conflicts between federal and Illinois procedure by holding that the plaintiff was not entitled to take discovery of Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper, that the innocent construction rule can be decided on a motion to dismiss in federal court, and the column was not defamatory as a matter of law because Roeper did not necessarily imply that Knafel committed the crime of prostitution.

Ralph Underwager v. Channel 9 Australia, et al., 69 F.3d 631 (9th Cir. 1995).In this groundbreaking opinion, a federal appellate court recognized for the first time that the First Amendment applies to aliens speaking in the United States. The defamation appeal also raised novel issues regarding the protection afforded to scientific criticism and commentary. The plaintiff, a psychologist and author, accused our client, an Australian professor, of defaming him at a scientific seminar by questioning his credibility and lack of scientific method with respect to testifying in sex abuse cases. The Firm obtained summary judgment in federal court in San Diego. The judgment was affirmed on appeal by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where the firm argued on behalf of all defendants. The Firm then utilized the appellate decision to dispose of several remaining cases that had been filed in jurisdictions where the comments had been subsequently republished.

Brennan v. Kadner, 351 Ill. App. 3d 963, 814 N.E.2d 951 (Ill. App. 2004)This case involved a newspaper column concerning a former school board attorney who had been found to have secretly financed a political committee to oppose an opposition slate of school board candidates.  Citing a confidential source, the column stated that “the election board could refer [plaintiff’s] case to the U.S. attorney’s office, claiming that he used the U.S. mail in perpetuating a fraud.”  Plaintiff argued that this statement imputed criminal conduct.  FVLD moved to dismiss the case and the appellate court agreed with columnist that the statement constituted a non verifiable opinion because it “was not couched in terms of a factual assertion that the plaintiff committed the offense of mail fraud, but as conjecture as to whether the election board could refer plaintiff’s case to federal authorities.”  The court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that he could prove the confidential source had not actually made the statement.  Instead, the court held that the original source of a statement has no bearing on whether it is defamatory.  The case was reported in the Chicago Law Bulletin as “Writer Statement Not Verifiable Fact: Court” and the Media Law Letter as “Columnists Opinion Defense Wins Appeal In Libel Case.”

Salamone v. Hollinger International, Inc., 347 Ill. App. 3d 837, 844, 807 N.E.2d 1086, 1093 (Ill. App. 2004)The appellate court held that it is not defamatory per se for a newspaper to call a person a "reputed organized crime figure" even if he has no criminal record.  The story reported on mob involvement in a local casino project.  One of the potential investors, who alleged that he actually was an innocent grocer, sued because he had been identified as linked to the mob.  FVLD obtained a dismissal of the original and amended complaints for defamation per se, defamation per quod and false light.  On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissals, agreeing that the term "reputed" acted as a “safe harbor” because it sufficiently supported an innocent construction of the phrase "organized crime figure."   Therefore, it was of no consequence that the plaintiff lacked a criminal record.  The court also affirmed the dismissals of the per quod and false light counts.  This opinion was reported in the Chicago Law Bulletin as "Newspaper finds Safe Harbor" and the Media Law Letter as “Chicago Sun-Times Wins Two Cases On Innocent Construction Rule.”

 Harrison v. Chicago Sun Times, Inc. 341 Ill. App. 3d 555, 793 N.E.2d 760 (Ill. App. 2003)The substantial truth defense played a prominent role in upholding a judgment for the newspaper in this case, where a headline reported that a mother “kidnapped” her daughter when she fled Italy.  The trial court dismissed several counts but not others and FVLD successfully petitioned for an interlocutory appeal on a question of first impression in Illinois regarding whether the front page headline must be read in conjunction with the interior article.  The appellate court agreed with FVLD and ruled that the interior story defused the implication of criminal conduct conveyed by the headline.  The ruling led to the dismissal of the entire case.  This opinion was reported in Editor & Publisher and the Media law Letter as “Use of ‘kidnapped’ substantially true.”

Gyrion v. City of Chicago, et al. 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9508 (May 4, 2005). This case aroseout of the Sun-Times’ award winning “hired truck program” series that investigated improprieties in how Chicago leased privately owned trucks for city work.  The Sun-Times reported that the mother-in-law of a Mark Gryion, a water department official (who also was the Mayor’s cousin) owned a lucrative business leasing trucks to the City.  Afterwards, the City held a press conference to announce that Gyrion had been fired because he had “betrayed the public trust.”  Gyrion alleged that the Sun-Times stories collectively “exaggerated certain statements and/or presentation of the same” and conveyed the false impression that he had acted unethically by concealing his involvement in the hired truck program when he actually had disclosed it to the City.  Granting the Sun-Times’ motion to dismiss with prejudice, the District Court found that the stories implied that Gyrion’s mother-in-law “owed her lucrative HTP contracts to her relationship with Mr. Gyrion” but agreed that this conclusion was a “constitutionally protected expression of opinion about a matter of public interest.”  The Court also agreed that, because Gyrion did not contest crucial underlying facts published in the stories, his claim that the stories were “exaggerated” failed to state a claim. 

Chicago Tribune Company, et al. v. City of Chicago, 705 F.Supp. 1345 (N.D. Ill. 1989)The Firm represented the Chicago Sun-Times in a successful preliminary injunction action against the City of Chicago and American Airlines for violating the First Amendment at O’Hare International Airport after the City and airline removed the newspaper’s coin-operated newsboxes from the terminal’s passenger concourse, citing security concerns. Believing the decision actually was motivated by other factors, the Firm had a Sun-Times photojournalist compile a photographic survey of the airport, which demonstrated that the defendants had left unremedied much more substantial security concerns. After the survey was submitted to the Court, it ordered the newsboxes to be returned.

Grutzmacher v. Chicago Sun-Times, Inc., 22 Media L. Rep. 23971994 WL 742257 (Ill.Cir. Ct., Sept. 28, 1994).The Firm regularly defends media clients in defamation and privacy related litigation. In this case, the Firm represented a newspaper in defeating a defamation claim brought by a former mayoral candidate after the newspaper’s political columnist characterized the plaintiff as a “neo-nazi.” The summary judgment papers included a chart comparing the plaintiff’s political writings with comparable passages in Mein Kampf.

Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. v. Board of Educ. of City of Chicago, 22 Media L. Rep. 2469, 1994 WL 739658 (Ill.Cir. Ct., Aug. 5, 1994).The Firm obtained a judgment enforcing the Chicago Sun-Times’ right of access under the First Amendment to internal school audit reports in litigation against the Chicago Board of Education. The Board of Education had denied the Chicago Sun-Times’ request for access to the records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which was made as part of the newspaper’s investigation into whether principals and other school employees had mismanaged or misappropriated school funds. Not only did the newspaper prevail in establishing a right of access to the records under the First Amendment, but also the Firm recovered the newspaper’s legal fees in prosecuting the litigation.

Media Law