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Playgirl prevails in 'Baywatch' actor's privacy suit

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  1. Libel and Privacy

    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Privacy         Mar 7, 2001    

Playgirl prevails in ‘Baywatch’ actor’s privacy suit

  • The court deemed a popular actor a public figure and found that he failed to prove the magazine acted with actual malice.

A federal judge in California ended an invasion of privacy lawsuit by a former “Baywatch” actor over a Playgirl cover bearing a photo of him. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Playgirl on claims of false light and misappropriation.

The magazine printed a photo of Jose Solano on its January 1999 cover and included a different photo with an article titled “TV Guys.” The magazine obtained the pictures from a photo clearing house. Solano did not appear nude in the magazine. Solano publicized the fact that he did not pose for the magazine in an appearance on the television show “Donny and Marie” and by reporting it to newspapers in New York, California, New Jersey and Texas.

Solano sued Playgirl for misappropriation, false light and embarrassment in California state court in November 1999, and the magazine had it transferred to federal district court three months later.

Judge Dickran Tevrizian granted Playgirl‘s motion for summary judgment on Feb. 13.

Tevrizian first ruled that Solano’s claims for privacy were not barred by California’s one-year statute of limitations, even though the suit was brought one year and 11 days after the magazine was first sent to subscribers. Tevrizian ruled that the statute of limitations commenced at a later date, the time when the magazine hit newsstands or was seen by a majority of subscribers.

The judge also ruled Solano to be a general purpose public figure because he had a three-year run on the popular television program. Therefore, Solano had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that editors entertained serious doubts about the veracity of the publication, which he failed to do.

Solano failed in his false light claim, Tevrizian ruled, because merely putting a photograph of a celebrity in or on an explicit magazine was insufficient to cast aspersion on a person.

Finally, the court ruled that the misappropriation claim failed because a magazine may publish a truthful, newsworthy use of a person’s image if it is a matter of public interest.

(Solano v. Playgirl; Media counsel: Kent Raygor, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, Los Angeles) DB

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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