Court: Montana Supreme Court
Date Filed: Dec. 19, 2022
Background: In November 2021, the New York Post published a story on allegations made in complaints and other court documents filed in lawsuits against tech billionaire Michael Goguen, including allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Goguen, who lives in Montana, sued the Post for defamation. He alleged, in part, that the Post demonstrated malicious intent by failing to investigate the veracity of statements made in the court documents and in publishing the article prior to receiving Goguen’s comment.
The Post moved to dismiss the lawsuit, in part, on the grounds that its reporting was covered by Montana’s fair report privilege, which ensures that a journalist who publishes, without malice, a fair and true report of an official public proceeding — or of anything said in the course thereof — cannot be liable for defamation.
However, the court denied the Post’s motion to dismiss the case, concluding that it was for the jury to decide whether the news outlet’s reporting was a “fair and true report without malice” under the privilege.
The Post appealed the trial court’s decision to the Montana Supreme Court.
Our Position: The Montana Supreme Court should reverse the trial court’s decision denying the Post’s motion to dismiss.
- A failure to investigate the veracity of statements made in official judicial or government proceedings is insufficient as a matter of law to demonstrate actual malice, and does not bring reporting outside the scope of the fair report privilege.
- The fair report privilege is essential to protecting the news media’s ability to inform the public on matters of public concern.
Quote: “If the trial court’s decision is affirmed, news media organizations will be placed in an untenable position in which they must choose between: (1) reporting on newsworthy allegations in court documents despite the risk of being subjected to costly, protracted litigation should those statements be false or defamatory; or (2) declining to publish such newsworthy but potentially false or defamatory allegations, thereby avoiding litigation risk but leaving the public in the dark.”