Simmons v. American Media, Inc., et al.

July 30, 2018

The Reporters Committee and five media organizations filed an amicus brief in the California Court of Appeal in support of American Media, Inc. and the other respondents in a case brought by Richard Simmons. Simmons claimed that the respondents defamed him by publishing an article that falsely identified him as transgender. The trial court held that identifying someone as transgender is not defamatory per se, and Simmons appealed. The amicus brief argues that the trial court's holding should be upheld, because defamatory meaning must evolve over time to ensure that the law supports and keeps pace with social change.  Just as courts have rejected defamation claims based on allegations of communism, racial misidentification, or homosexuality, courts should narrowly define what may be defamatory per se and exclude the misidentification of a person as transgender from that category.  In addition, the amicus brief argues that vital journalism about transgender people and the issues facing the transgender community will be chilled if the court holds that misidentifying someone as transgender is libelous per se.