Third Circuit Affirms Fair-Report Privilege in Libel Case

The New York Daily News, TMZ Productions Inc. and other media outlets did not engage in libel by reporting on a wrongful arrest in a drug and prostitution case, charges that were later dropped, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held on Oct. 17, 2017.

The three-judge panel said the news articles were protected by the New Jersey fair-report privilege because they relied on statements by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman during a press conference and in a news release.

The ruling affirmed dismissal of the claims. MARC partner Bruce S. Rosen, along with Daily News in-house counsel Matthew Leish, represented the newspaper.

The articles present “full, fair and accurate reports” of Schneiderman’s comments, the court said. It added, “whether an article is entitled to the protections of the fair-report privilege does not hinge on the accuracy of the underlying official document or statement.”

The charges against the plaintiff, a woman erroneously tied to the case, were dropped after her attorney provided exculpatory evidence showing she could not have committed the acts with which she was charged.

Her “ultimate exoneration is not determinative,” the court said.

The court found it proper for the media outlets to report on her arrest. Her grievance is with the attorney general, not the media, the judges continued.

Read the decision and sample media coverage here and here.

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