Austin, TX (Law Firm Newswire) July 19, 2019 – In Scripps NP Operating, LLC v. Carter, the court holds that a newspaper may be held liable for statements made in a series of articles reporting on the financial improprieties of a private citizen.
On May 24, 2019, the state’s high court issued an opinion in a Texas defamation case involving a series of articles that the Corpus Christi Times-Caller published about the then-Chief Executive Officer of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. The case required the court to determine if the newspaper was entitled to summary judgment based on the fact that the allegedly defamatory content was substantially true and based on the accurate reporting of third-party allegations. Ultimately, the court concluded that an issue of fact existed regarding whether the statements made in the articles were substantially true, and the newspaper’s reporting went beyond the mere recitation of third-party allegations.
The case was brought by the former CEO of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce against the Corpus Christi Times-Caller, after the Times-Caller published a series of more than 20 articles detailing allegations made against the former CEO. The articles described allegations that the former CEO deferred a portion of his salary to make the organization appear more profitable than it was, resulting in a more significant bonus for the then-CEO. According to the Times-Caller, the Chamber’s treasurer sent the Times-Caller a letter detailing his concerns over the former CEO’s financial improprieties and this letter served as the basis for several of the reports. A subsequent audit revealed that there were “material misstatements,” but that the errors were “corrected by management.”
The court began its analysis by noting that to be liable for defamation of a private citizen, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant negligently published something that defamed the plaintiff. True statements cannot be the basis of a defamation claim. The Times-Caller argued that it could not be liable for defamation for two reasons. First, that it merely relied on third-party accounts of what transpired and that this should be an exception to what may otherwise be considered defamation. Second, the newspaper argued that the statements were substantially true, based on the audit indicating that there were material misstatements.
The court rejected both of the newspaper’s arguments, determining that there was sufficient evidence to allow a jury to make the final determination. The court explained that there has never been an exception for the accurate reporting of defamatory statements based on third-party allegations; however, the facts of this case would not warrant such an exception, even if it were to exist. The court reasoned that the articles at issue went beyond merely restating the allegations contained in the letter from the treasurer.
The court also rejected the newspaper’s argument that the statements were substantially true based on the subsequent audit. The court reasoned that the result of the audit was ambiguous and neither exonerated the former CEO nor confirmed the allegations. That being the case, the court held that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Austin defamation attorney Gregory D. Jordan explains that, “While the First Amendment provides some protections for speech, those protections are not unlimited.” Attorney Jordan reminds those who have suffered irreparable damage to their reputation or business interests that, “Individuals, newspapers and other media outlets are not immune from the inflammatory and potentially defamatory content they publish. “
The Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan is an Austin trial law firm that represents both plaintiffs and defendants in Texas defamation cases. Contact the Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan at http://www.theaustintriallawyer.com/.
Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan
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