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Photograph's inclusion in mob book not 'false light'

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  1. Libel and Privacy
NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   SEVENTH CIRCUIT   ·   Privacy   ·   May 10, 2005

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   SEVENTH CIRCUIT   ·   Privacy   ·   May 10, 2005

Photograph’s inclusion in mob book not ‘false light’

  • A convicted mobster’s former sister-in-law was not portrayed in a false light when her photograph was included in the mobster’s book about organized crime, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled.

May 10, 2005  ·   Using a former family member’s photograph in a book about the mob did not invade her privacy because the picture did not portray her a false light and was not highly offensive, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) ruled in upholding a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit.

A photo of Gayle Raveling holding Joey Corbitt — her nephew and godson — is the only mention of her in the 2003 book “Double Deal: The Inside Story of Murder, Unbridled Corruption, and the Cop Who Was a Mobster.” That “single, relevant use of her likeness and name does not show her in a false light,” a three-judge panel ruled. “Standing alone, this failure dooms the complaint.”

The book, published by HarperCollins Publishers, was written by convicted Chicago mobster and former Willow Springs, Ill., Police Chief Michael Corbitt, and Sam Giancana, godson and namesake of Chicago mobster Sam “Momo” Giancana.

In a section of the book dedicated to photographs, Corbitt included a picture of his brother’s then-wife, Raveling, who is the godmother of Corbitt’s son Joey. Also in the photograph is Joey’s godfather, Sal Bastone, whom Corbitt identified in the book as belonging to the Chicago mob. The picture appears on the same page as a photograph of a car identified as containing the remains of a murder victim.

Raveling sued HarperCollins in Illinois state court in September 2003 for false light invasion of privacy, alleging that the inclusion of her photograph in the book gave the impression that she was involved in organized crime. She sought $100,000 in damages and an injunction against publication of her photograph in the book.

HarperCollins moved the case to federal court in October 2003 and in February 2004, the U.S. District Court in Chicago dismissed the case. Raveling appealed, and on March 4, 2005, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.

The court ruled that because the portrayal of Raveling was substantially true, she had not been placed in a false light and the suit must be dismissed.

Judges Kenneth F. Ripple, Daniel A. Manion and Michael S. Kanne also ruled that Raveling failed to satisfy the requirements of Illinois law in a false light claim. They held that Raveling did not prove that her portrayal was highly offensive to a reasonable person and was made with “actual malice” — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for whether a statement is true or false. The court noted that Raveling’s complaint made no mention of the actual malice standard, and that “a plain statement of one’s family relationship to another person simply is not highly offensive to the reasonable person.”

(Raveling v. HarperCollins Publishers, Media Counsel: Slade R. Metcalf, Hogan & Hartson, New York)GP

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