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Kimberly Bryson v. News America Publications, Inc.
Illinois Supreme Court
174 Ill. 2d 77, 672 N.E.2d 1207 (1996)
In 1991, Lucy Logsdon (defendant) wrote an article entitled “Bryson,” which was published by News America Publications, Incorporated (News America) (defendant) in Seventeen magazine. The article—which purported to be fictional—was told in first person by an anonymous narrator who was a classmate of a character named Bryson (the character). The article recounted a confrontation between the character and another student. The narrator described the character’s physical attributes, potentially alluded to the character’s promiscuity, and called the character a slut. The article also noted that Logsdon was from southern Illinois. Kimberly Bryson (plaintiff) filed suit against Logsdon and News America in Illinois state court, alleging that the character clearly depicted Bryson and therefore that calling the character a slut constituted defamation per se—meaning that Bryson could prove defamation without proving damages. News America and Logsdon argued that—pursuant to the innocent-construction rule, which is a defense against defamation per se if the alleged defamatory language could be reasonably interpreted in a nondefamatory manner—the slut insult could be interpreted as merely meaning “bully” based on one of the dictionary definitions of slut, and that the article was not clearly about Bryson. News America and Logsdon also argued that the alleged defamatory statement was nonetheless an expression of opinion in a fictional story and was therefore protected free speech under the First Amendment. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, and the appellate court affirmed. Bryson appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Bilandic, C.J.)
Dissent (McMorrow, J.)
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