MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) – The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a defamation suit filed by a firefighter naming former Fox News host Megyn Kelly as a defendant.
Aaron Marjala was a
member of a Wisconsin fire department before injuring the ulnar nerve in his
right arm. He was ultimately placed on disability after no jobs within the
department became available to him.
Later, Marjala was classified as
permanently disabled and approved for duty benefits.
Sometime after that, Marjala
began competing in marathons and even an Ironman competition, eventually prompting fire department Chief Robert Whitaker to do a live TV interview with
WITI that was later discussed by Kelly.
During her program, they openly called into question the merits of him being certified
as disabled and strongly insinuated that the entire system for making determinations about such matters was in desperate need
Marjala's suit claimed the
two, as well as show guest Lee Armstrong, all made defamatory comments about him.
In affirming the decision made the trial court, the appellate court found that the
comments made by the trio were expressed as opinions and therefore insulated
from any liability.
The court also ruled that
Kelly’s broadcast and a related one that aired on another station both provided
a full accounting of the facts of the case as they were then known, and therefore cannot
be considered defamatory.
“While I am sure the
plaintiff may have been embarrassed by the broadcast, the Wisconsin Court of
Appeals simply followed well-established principles of defamation law,” Lee Brenner, chair of Kelley Drye & Warren Media
and Entertainment practice group, told Legal
Additionally, the court found that Kelly’s entire
program constituted a smorgasbord of opinions “based on fully disclosed
true or substantially true facts, rendering the opinions nonactionable.”
Brenner added, while
Marjala may seek to file an appeal and push to have the case reviewed by the
Wisconsin Supreme Court, the court is under no obligation to grant his
for Kelly being shielded from all liability, Brenner also found that decision to
be in keeping with the letter of the law.
is widely accepted law that an expression of opinion based on disclosed true
facts is not sufficient sustain an action for defamation, even when the opinion
is derogatory,” he added. “The idea is that the recipient of the communication
(i.e. the hearer of viewer) may choose to accept or reject the opinion based on
his or her own evaluation of the facts. There can be no recovery for defamation
under those circumstances.”
the end, Brenner seemed convinced the higher court came to feel protecting the
First Amendment and the right to free speech is what should be viewed as paramount.
Kelly has since left the Fox Network,
signing on with NBC News where reports have her set to become the highest-paid female
journalist on TV at upwards of the $20 million per year she turned down from
her former employer.
She hosted the “Kelly Files” on Fox for
more than 12 seasons.