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Stanton v. Metro Corp. - 438 F.3d 119 (1st Cir. 2006)

Rule:

A communication is susceptible to defamatory meaning if it would tend to hold the plaintiff up to scorn, hatred, ridicule or contempt, in the minds of any considerable and respectable segment in the community. In making the assessment, however, the communication must be interpreted reasonably, and can be ruled defamatory only if it would lead a reasonable reader to conclude that it conveyed a defamatory meaning.

Facts:

Stacy Stanton was one of five young people pictured in a photograph that was juxtaposed with an article on teenage promiscuity. Just above the byline, and just below the main article text, the following appeared in italicized type: "The photos on these pages are from an award-winning five-year project on teen sexuality. . . The individuals pictured are unrelated to the people or events described in this story. The names of the teenagers interviewed for this story have been changed." The words were rendered in the smallest font on the page, which was otherwise devoid of text that explained the photograph or identified its subjects. Claiming to never have participated in any project on teen sexuality, plaintiff Stanton brought this state law action for defamation against defendant Metro Corp. The district court relied heavily on the disclaimer in dismissing the action. Stanton appealed.

Issue:

Did the district court err in dismissing Stanton’s state-law defamation action against the magazine publisher, Metro Corp.?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

In reversing and remanding the district court's decision, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that, given the fact that the placement of the disclaimer made it easy to overlook between the larger fonts of the byline and the body of the story, a reasonable reader could have failed to notice the disclaimer or failed to read the second sentence. The appellate court held that the article was reasonably susceptible to a defamatory meaning.

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