The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided on July 26, 2016 to revive a firefighter’s defamation and false light claim against the New York Daily News after rehearing the claim on June 21. The claim involved a Philadelphia firefighter, Francis Cheney, whose photograph appeared with an article in January about a sex scandal involving Philadelphia firefighters and a paramedic.
The Third Circuit originally affirmed a dismissal of the suit because Cheney could not show that the allegedly defamatory material could reasonably be understood as referring to him, as the article never mentions his name and the photograph was just a stock photograph. However, in reviving the claim, the Court stated that a reasonable reader could, in fact, conclude that the text could be “of and concerning” him. One of the Court’s reasons was that the picture was placed directly next to the text, and it was the only picture of a firefighter that ran along with the story. Furthermore, many firefighters were implicated in the story, but Cheney’s name is the only one that appeared in print, despite the fact that he was not involved in the scandal. These circumstances together could lead a reasonable reader to believe Cheney was involved in the scandal.
The attorneys for Cheney will now continue to litigate the case.