Burke v. Sparta Newspapers, Inc.
Tennessee Supreme Court
592 S.W.3d 116 (2019)
The Expositor, a newspaper published by Sparta Newspapers, Inc. (Sparta) (defendant) ran an article on the indictment and arrest of Jeffery Burke (plaintiff) for misappropriating monies collected in a local youth football league’s cookie-dough fundraiser. Burke’s attorney advised the article’s author that the article was inaccurate. The Expositor’s editor responded that the quoted detective, who was the lead investigator, was the source of the information and only the amount of money involved needed clarification. Burke sued Sparta, alleging that three errors in the article placed Burke in a false light: (1) the amount of money involved, (2) that the cookie dough was never delivered, and (3) that Burke failed to deliver the collected funds to the fundraising company. Burke claimed that the defamatory article caused him to lose his job and suffer emotional stress and damaged his reputation. Sparta moved for summary judgment based on the fair-report privilege, arguing that the article was a fair and accurate report of what the detective, acting in his capacity as lead detective and public-information officer, told the article’s author. The court granted Sparta’s motion, finding that the one-on-one interview satisfied the “official” requirement of the fair-report privilege. The appellate court reversed, holding that the interview was not an official action, official proceeding, or public meeting covered by the privilege. Sparta appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Clark, J.)
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