Thursday, January 7, 2010

Mass. SJC Renders 'Enterprising' Libel Decision

John Adams Courthouse, home to the SJCImage via Wikipedia
Massachusetts' longstanding tradition of recognizing a fair and accurate reporting privilege of official statements and actions as a defense to defamation claims received a shot in the arm today from the Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC") ruling in the 2005 case, Howell v. Enterprise.

The SJC reversed the lower court's denial of the Brockton Enterprise's summary judgment motion on libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, in dismissing the case brought by an official from the Town of Abington who was the subject of 11 Enterprise articles from May 2005, to Nov. 2005, regarding his alleged use of town computers to access pornography.

The SJC opinion by Justice Robert Cordy said the high court must be: "on alert for two sorts of reporting errors: mistakes in reporting what actually happened (accurate), and liberties taken in reporting the character of what actually happened (fair). We examine both through the lens of the reasonable recipient of the report to gauge the substantiality of the report's accuracy and fairness." The SJC goes on to include that the newspaper's reports were both substantially accurate and fair.

The SJC opinion further states that the fairness and accuracy privilege should be liberally construed by courts.
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