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Cefalu v. Globe Newspaper Co - 8 Mass. App. Ct. 71, 391 N.E.2d 935 (1979)

Rule:

In the area of defamation, summary judgment procedures are particularly appropriate because the stake is free debate. The threat of being put to the defense of a law suit may be as chilling to the exercise of First Amendment freedoms as fear of the outcome of the lawsuit itself. Where it is unlikely that the plaintiff will succeed on the merits of his claim, courts are more willing, within the area of libel than elsewhere, to grant summary judgment.

Facts:

Plaintiff Angelo Cefalu filed libel and invasion of privacy actions in Massachusetts superior court against defendant Globe Newspaper Company ("Globe") and a photographer employed by Globe. The action arose after Globe twice published a photograph of a group of individuals, including Cefalu, standing in line to collect unemployment benefits, in connection with a series of articles about unemployment in Massachusetts. Cefalu, who was not unemployed, happened to be standing at the benefits office waiting on a friend. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Globe and the photographer. On appeal, the court affirmed, holding that Globe was privileged to make and publish the picture without any prior announcement. Cefalu appealed.

Issue:

Was Globe libel or invasion of privacy when it published a photograph of Cefalu, a bystander, without his permission?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts affirmed the superior court's judgment. The court ruled that no libel or invasion of privacy occurred. The uncontroverted facts developed from the pleadings and affidavits showed no want of due care on the part of Globe or the photographer in taking and publishing the photograph. Moreover, the court ruled, whatever conduct might rise to a violation of the privacy statute, the publication of the photograph of a line of people in a government building was not it. The appearance of a person in a public place necessarily involved doffing the cloak of privacy that the law protects.

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