Dismissal of wrongful death claim over arrest report upheld
TEXAS–In mid-April, a state appellate panel in San Antonio ruled that because information in a newspaper article about individuals arrested during a police undercover operation targeting sex offenders in public parks was obtained from public records, it was not private information and the newspaper did not engage in “outrageous” conduct by publishing it.
The Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death brought by the family of a man identified in the article, who later committed suicide.
The court also ruled that because imposing damages for publishing truthful, lawfully obtained information available in public records would infringe upon a newspaper’s First Amendment rights, the newspaper had established an affirmative defense to the wrongful death claim.
The family of Benny Hogan sued Elisandro Garza, a reporter for The San Antonio Express-News, and the newspaper’s publisher over a June 1994 article which disclosed that Hogan had been arrested in a public park the previous month for indecent exposure. Hogan committed suicide shortly after the article was published.
Garza stated in an affidavit that he obtained the information about the arrests from police reports, which the police department routinely makes available to the press and public.
Hogan’s family contended that after reading Garza’s article, he suffered extreme humiliation, which ultimately led to his suicide. They claimed that Hogan was a “closeted” homosexual and that the defendants’ story disclosed private facts about him, “outing” him against his wishes. The article did not state that Hogan was homosexual, and his family conceded that the published information was true. (Hogan v. The Hearst Corporation; Media Counsel: Mark Cannan, San Antonio)