The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last week in LFP Publishing Group d/b/a Hustler Magazine v. Maureen Toffoloni, Admin. of the Estate of Nancy E. Benoit (Docket No. 11-cv-12922) refused to reinstate a near $20 million 2011 jury award against the adult magazine for publishing nude photos of the spouse of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who strangled her and the couple's son in a murder-suicide in 2007 (see "TUOL" post 1/27/12).
The appellate court ruled that although Hustler wrongly published the then-24-year-old photos of former model and wrestler Nancy Benoit, its actions did not warrant the $19.6 million punitive damages (later reduced by a District Court judge to $250,000) assessed by the jury. Georgia recognizes a right of publicity/invasion of privacy action that allows a plaintiff to recover for the commercial use of his or her image without permission. Though Hustler was misguided in its belief, the appellate court found the magazine had a good-faith belief that the photos satisfied the "newsworthiness" defense to a right of publicity claim because of Nancy Benoit's violent death.