Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sixth Circuit Unimpressed with Ohio 'Boy Mayor''s Libel Suit

Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...Image via WikipediaIn Bentkowski v. Cleveland Scene LLC et al. (Case No. 09-4547), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit this week held that a weekly magazine's article about Seven Hills Ohio Mayor David Bentkowski was not defamatory.

Circuit Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. upheld the summary judgment ruling in favor of the publication by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Bentkowski sued over an Aug. 1, 2007, article entitled "The Bizarre Boy Mayor" that appeared in the "First Punch" section of Cleveland Scene, which features, humor, comment and criticism.

Bentkowski claimed he was defamed by two passages in the article, one of which said he "routinely tries to pull off stunts like limiting residents' feedback at meetings and barring government employees from running for office," and a portion of the article that purportedly suggests he sought information about young women constituents for illicit purposes.

 The Court, however, said the Mayor failed to show Cleveland Scene published the article with actual malice, and, citing the hyperbole, simile and other figurative language used in the article, said the statements at issue constituted opinion, and were incapable of a defamatory meaning. The Court referenced examples in the article, such as stating the mayor had the "political IQ of Quizmos' lettuce,"  to support its conclusion that the article was not actionable.

Factors weighed by the Court in deciding whether the allegedly offensive statements constitute opinion include: 1) the specific language used, 2) whether the statement is verifiable, 3) the general context of the statement and 4) the broader context in which the statement appeared.

Tip of the hat to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Website (www.rcfp.org) for reporting on this case. 

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