AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline) – The Texas Supreme Court ruled March 17 to allow a defamation lawsuit to continue, but it also said a lower appeals court shouldn't have used Wikipedia as an authority.
The court affirmed the dismissal of other counts of the lawsuit but ruled the plaintiff met her burden to allege defamation.
Janay Bender Rosenthal accused D Magazine of
defamation and other counts after a March 2013 article in which Rosenthal was the subject. The article, titled "The Park Cities Welfare
Queen," accused Rosenthal of committing welfare fraud - an allegation she says was not accurately reported.
The article reported that the plaintiff had found a way to
scam the system into giving her food stamps and she was living well because of
it. The article continued to explain how she pulled the alleged crime off and
also included a mug shot from an unrelated arrest.
The magazine attributed the
entire story to an anonymous Park Cities parent.
D Magazine never reached out to the Texas Health and Human Services
Commission to confirm the information. Editor Tim Rogers tried reaching out the
Rosenthal to ask for her comments, but she never followed up.
After the article came out, Rosenthal contacted the Commission to ask if she
committed any wrongdoing. It investigated and told her they did not find any
evidence of fraud. She subsequently filed the lawsuit soon after.
She sued for
defamation and claims under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer
Protection Act and the Identify Theft Enforcement and Protection Act.
In response to the lawsuit, D Magazine tried to get the case dismissed under
the Texas Citizens Participation Act. The trial court denied the magazine’s
motion as a defamation case, but granted the other counts. The court of appeals
also agreed in this ruling.
The Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act represents what is commonly
known as the anti-SLAPP law. The law protects writers, reporters and bloggers
from companies and other parties from suing for defamation. The law is applied
on a case-by-case basis.
But both the anti-SLAPP law and the U.S. Constitution
do not unlimitedly protect and do not prevent individuals from being sued if a
person truly feels injured by false or defamatory speech.
Court also ruled that the Court of Appeals' reliance on
Wikipedia led to an unduly narrow interpretation of the article’s title that,
in turn, impacted the court’s analysis of the plaintiff’s defamation claim.
But, in the case of the second claim, the Supreme Court stated that any
reasonable person could read the article as a whole and see that it accused
Rosenthal of fraudulently obtaining public benefits. Rosenthal presented ample
evidence that proved defamation and supported a prima facie case.
The Supreme Court agreed with the original trial court and court of appeals
ruling that a dismissal under the
Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act is not warranted.