Texas high court refuses to recognize claim for false light invasion of privacy
TEXAS — The Texas Supreme Court in Austin refused to recognize the false light invasion of privacy tort in a 5-4 ruling in late June.
The court concluded that any marginal benefit from permitting recovery for non- defamatory speech that places a person in a false light was outweighed by the probable chilling effect on speech and freedom of the press.
The Texas court decided the false light question at the request of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.). The Fifth Circuit was applying Texas law to the false light claim of Clyde Cain, a prison inmate serving a life sentence for murder.
Cain objected to a June 1991 Houston Chronicle article that said he belonged to the “Dixie Mafia” and stated he was “believed to have killed as many as eight people.”
In April 1993 the U.S. district court in Houston granted the newspaper’s motion to dismiss the suit. The court held that Cain’s false light claim was in fact a libel suit, and that the one-year statute of limitations had expired before Cain filed suit.
After the Texas Supreme Court accepted the Fifth Circuit’s question in early February, several media organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a brief in support of the Chronicle.
The court accepted the media’s argument that the false light tort largely duplicates other causes of action, such as defamation, and that the lack of procedural limitations unconstitutionally burdens free speech.
(Cain v. Hearst Corp.; Media Counsel: William Ogden, Houston)