State court holds that libel defendant cannot rely on agency to prove statements’ truth
OREGON — The Oregon Supreme Court in Salem rejected in late December a summary judgment motion made by the defendant in a libel suit brought by a dealer in animals for medical research. The court ruled that a federal agency that investigated the dealer had not already established the truth of the defendant’s statements.
The plaintiff, James Hickey, alleged that his godmother and neighbor, Merthal Settlemier, appeared on the ABC television program “20/20” in 1990 and said that Hickey mistreated animals and shot animals that were not suitable for research.
In her summary judgment motion, Settlemier argued that Hickey was precluded from arguing that Settlemier’s statements were false, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture had ruled against Hickey on the same issues in a previous administrative proceeding. The department fined Hickey and suspended his animal dealing license.
The Oregon Supreme Court denied the motion, ruling that the issues in the libel suit and Department of Agriculture case are not identical.
Last year, Hickey lost a federal suit against ABC over the same “20/20” broadcast, which also reported that Hickey dealt in stolen animals. In an unpublished opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Portland, Ore., (9th Cir.) ruled in late July that Hickey failed to prove that the statements in the “20/20” broadcast were false.
(Hickey v. Settlemier; Counsel: John F. Kilcullen, Eugene)