Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2d Cir. Rekindles MSNBC Reporter's Libel Suit Against Network

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In Claudia DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable LLC, Rick Kaplan & Scott Leon (Docket No. 09-2821-cv), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week reinstated defamation and breach of contract claims against the cable network brought by Claudia DiFolco, former Los Angeles correspondent for MSNBC at the Movies and MSNBC Entertainment Hot List.

The appellate court reversed the March 30, 2007, decision of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Loretta Preska's dismissal of DiFolco's lawsuit alleging defamation, breach of contract and tortious interference with prospective business relations for failure to state a claim by reinstating the contract and defamation counts.  Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Roger Miner said the trial court precipitously accepted the defendants' argument that the plaintiff had resigned.

DiFolco contended that MSNBC President Rick Kaplan wrongly interpreted an email she sent about alleged mistreatment of her by producers of her programs to be her resignation before her two-year contract expired.  She alleged MSNBC leaked her purported departure to online industry news sites Inside Cable, News Blues and TV Spy, which she claimed defamed her in online articles. TV Spy posted a pseudonymous comment that DiFolco "believe[d] that cleavage, overtime in the makeup chair and a huge desire to become a star is...how to pay your dues," while the other two sites claimed she quit MSNBC mid-contract.

Judge Preska ruled DiFolco's repudiation of her agreement negated her breach of contract claim and found the defenses of truth and fair comment (opinion) defeated her defamation claims.  The appeals court, however, noted that opinions grounded on false facts are actionable, so Judge Preska prematurely ruled TV Spy's posting was non-defamatory, and that the parties' email exchange did not reflect unequivocally DiFolco's intention to resign as correspondent, giving new life to the breach of contract allegation.

In this instance, MSNBC, whose new slogan is "Leaning Forward," may fall on its face.

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