Image via WikipediaA Tennessee appellate court has upheld the dismissal of a defamation claim brought by the owner of a topless club and a handful of exotic dancers against Shelby County (Tenn.) Commissioner Michael Ritz concerning comments he allegedly made in a story that appeared in The Commercial Appeal of Memphis.
Shelby County Circuit Court Judge David R. Farmer wrote the opinion siding with the trial court's ruling that Ritz's alleged comments: "Almost without exception, these girls were sexually abused by a family member...and have an addiction to drugs or alcohol...these clubs feed on that," did not defame the plaintiffs.
The case, Steele v. Ritz (Case No. W2008-02125-COA-R3-CV), was tossed because the complaint failed to allege that the commissioner's purported remarks either referred to the plaintiffs by name or demonstrated that a reasonable reader of the comments would know that the alleged statements were about the plaintiffs. Judge Farmer supported the trial court's reliance on the so-called "group libel rule," under which the plaintiffs must allege they were individually named in the purported libelous statements, so that remarks that broadly include a class or group of members, but lack circumstances that specifically point to a member of that group or class, do not rise to the level of defamation.
In other words, the plaintiffs' complaint neither alleged that Ritz's purported "these girls" and "these clubs" remarks referenced the plaintiffs specifically, nor did the complaint allege the comments were directed toward Shelby County adult entertainment outlets or the female employees of those enterprises.
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