Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Fair Report Privilege Doesn't Apply To Nonpublic Interviews

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the fair report privilege does not apply to a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation between a newspaper reporter and a detective of a county sheriff’s department, who also served as the public information officer for the sheriff’s department. 

The decision arose out of a defamation action that Jeffrey Todd Burke brought against Sparta Newspapers for an article published in 2014 in The Expositor, a newspaper of general circulation published twice weekly in White County, Tennessee.  In developing the story, the reporter interviewed the detective in a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation. In his lawsuit, Mr. Burke claimed the article published defamatory statements the detective made about Mr. Burke during that interview.   Sparta Newspapers moved for summary judgment based on the fair report privilege.  This privilege protects persons and organizations that report on official acts and proceedings from defamation claims so long as the reports are fair and accurate. Mr. Burke opposed the motion for summary judgment and argued that the nonpublic, one-on-one interview was not an official act to which the privilege applied. 

The trial court agreed with Sparta Newspapers and granted summary judgment based on the fair report privilege.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and held that the private interview was not an official action, official proceeding, or public meeting within the scope of the fair report privilege.  The Supreme Court granted Sparta Newspapers permission to appeal to define the scope of the fair report privilege.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court adopted the approach the Tennessee Court of Appeals has consistently taken and held that the fair report privilege applies only to public proceedings or official actions of government that have been made public.  The Supreme Court explained that limiting the fair report privilege to public proceedings or official actions that have been made public advances the purposes of the privilege, which are enabling the press to be the eyes and ears of the public and facilitating public supervision of official actions and proceedings.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings on Mr. Burke’s claim and noted that Smyrna Newspapers may raise any other available defenses in the trial court.

To read the unanimous opinion in Jeffrey Todd Burke v. Smyrna Newspapers, Incorporated, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


Local Chapter Of Civitan International Installs 3 Leitner, Williams Attorneys To Board Of Directors

Attorney General’s Office And Commerce And Insurance Join CFTC To Stop Nationwide Precious Metals IRA, Bullion Coin Scheme

AG Slatery Reaches $60 Million Multistate Surgical Mesh Settlement


The law firm of Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan, PLLC announces that attorneys Terri Daugherty, Evan Vineyard and Will Leech have been installed on the 2020-2021 Board of Directors ... (click for more)

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance announced Friday they are participating in a consolidated nationwide enforcement action to disrupt ... (click for more)

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III Thursday announced a settlement by 48 states and the District of Columbia with C.R. Bard, Inc. and its parent company Becton, Dickinson and Company requiring ... (click for more)



Business

Local Chapter Of Civitan International Installs 3 Leitner, Williams Attorneys To Board Of Directors

The law firm of Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan, PLLC announces that attorneys Terri Daugherty, Evan Vineyard and Will Leech have been installed on the 2020-2021 Board of Directors for the Chattanooga chapter of Civitan International. Attorney Terri Daugherty was announced as the vice president of the Chattanooga chapter of Civitan. Ms. Daugherty’s community involvement ... (click for more)

Attorney General’s Office And Commerce And Insurance Join CFTC To Stop Nationwide Precious Metals IRA, Bullion Coin Scheme

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance announced Friday they are participating in a consolidated nationwide enforcement action to disrupt a fraudulent precious metals scheme that has solicited more than $185 million from seniors and other investors across the United States. This week, the Tennessee Attorney General’s ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Hamilton County Has 2 More COVID Deaths And 91 More Cases

Hamilton County has two new coronavirus deaths as the toll climbs to 94. The number of new cases in Hamilton County on Friday was 91 - up from the prior day's 64. The new total is 9,542. Hamilton County has had 8,833 people recover from the virus (93 percent) and there are 615 active cases - up from 603 yesterday. There are 52 people hospitalized in the county from coronavirus, ... (click for more)

Chattooga And Walker Counties Each Have Another COVID Death; Georgia Has 53 Deaths

Georgia state health officials reported on Friday there have been an additional 53 deaths due to the coronavirus. The new total is 6,874. There were 1,547 new cases as that total reached 312,514 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Hospitalizations are at 28,035, up 132 from Thursday. Here are the numbers by county: Catoosa County: 1,171 cases, up 16; 18 deaths; 77 ... (click for more)

Opinion

Increase The Pay Rate For Substitutes

Today Hamilton County Schools had 138 requests for substitutes. The answer to filing those classrooms is simple, increase the daily pay for substitutes. The pay rate is terrible for both certified and noncertified individuals. Knox County wised up and increased the pay. If a substitute works 10 to 14 days a month, he or she would receive an additional $300. If the person worked ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Nashville's Big Day

The Nashville Election Commission will meet this afternoon to vote on whether to conduct a city-wide special election on Dec. 5. A grass roots group says they have enough signatures to bring a controversial 34 percent tax increase to the voters. Oh, the increase has already been approved, alright, but Nashville is the state’s Waterloo argue others, and if the city government goes ... (click for more)