NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW YORK · Libel · June 20, 2007
Appeals court rejects libel lawsuit by former Knicks player
June 20, 2007 · Former New York Knicks basketball player Latrell Sprewell cannot proceed with a libel lawsuit against a reporter and newspaper, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
A panel of judges from a state appeals court in New York granted summary judgment in favor of New York Post reporter Marc Berman and the newspaper’s parent company, NYP Holdings Inc.
Sprewell sued Berman and the newspaper based on 2002 articles that said, among other things, that Sprewell “took a swing” at a guest on his yacht but hit a wall instead, injuring his hand.
Berman said that he received the information contained in his articles from confidential sources. He has refused to reveal the sources’ identities, citing his promise of confidentiality and the New York state reporter’s shield statute, which gives reporters an absolute right to protect their sources’ identities.
Because Sprewell is a public figure, he had to prove that Berman wrote false and defamatory statements about Sprewell with “actual malice” — knowledge that the statements are false or reckless disregard for whether they are false.
The lower court concluded that because Berman and the Post exercised their rights under the New York shield statute to refuse to reveal the sources, they could “not rely on the confidential sources to show that they did not act with actual malice in publishing the article.” That is, the court found that the defendants could not rely on the credibility of anonymous sources since that anonymity could make it difficult to determine whether Berman was reasonable in relying on their statements.
However, the appeals court held Tuesday that regardless of the sources’ credibility, Sprewell had “not presented any evidence to raise a triable issue of fact concerning actual malice, let alone sufficient evidence to establish actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.”
Writing for the unanimous panel, Judge John T. Buckley said even assuming that Berman’s “statements regarding how plaintiff injured his hand and his alleged attempt to cover up the incident are false, the Post and Berman are entitled to” prevail in this case.
Buckley reasoned that since the “information was not reported as incontrovertible fact, but rather cautioned the reader that it was based on two confidential witnesses and was denied by plaintiff,” there could be no finding of actual malice.
(Sprewell v. NYP Holdings, Media Counsel: Slade Metcalf, Hogan & Hartson LLP, New York) — ES