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Peter Paul Biro v. Conde Nast

A limited-purpose public figure is required to allege sufficient facts to assert the existence of malice in a defamation claim.

By Pia Katerina Tempongko

In this day and age, the line between public figures and ordinary people seems to get blurry. The proliferation of different platforms turn certain people from private individuals into television celebrities. This new kind of celebrity status has been made famous by reality shows, social media presence, and blogosphere notoriety. Current events are instantaneously relayed to the masses through TV networks, radio, social media, SMS/MMS exchange, and the like. Of course, the yin has to balance the yang. The good that comes with being famous, however, comes with the vulnerability to outside attacks.

Peter Paul Biro, the plaintiff in this case, was the subject of an article that was printed in the The New Yorker magazine, which is published by the defendant. Biro's business is art restoration and authentication, and he well known in the art world; he has developed scientific approaches to authenticating art works through fingerprint analysis. Biro alleges that the article was false and defamatory as it alludes to his practice, methods and character being questionable. He claims that article addresses:

art authentication being subjective more than objective;
Biro's attempts to render objective what has historically been subjective;
mentions several lawsuits against Biro with respect to his work;
the author's emphasis on the suspicious aspects of Biro's background; and
Biro's denial or his attempt to explain when confronted by the author with respect to these lawsuits and various allegations.

As there were so many alleged defamatory statements within the 16,000 word article, the court had to classify and address which were actionable versus non-actionable. It granted the defendant's motion to dismiss on the non-actionable statements, and denied the motion regarding those that were actionable. The court ruled that statements that are substantially true and based on facts are not defamatory statements, and therefore not actionable, in a defamation suit. Statements of pure opinion are also non-actionable. However, a statement of opinion that is based on undisclosed facts can be potentially actionable because it carries with it an implicit statement of facts. On the other hand, a statement that supplies additional affirmative evidence suggesting that the person stating it intends or endorses the defamatory inference is an actionable statement. Additionally, when an author fully sets forth the factual basis for a particular view, the author's conclusion constitutes non-actionable opinion. The court granted in part and denied in part the defendant's motion to dismiss. (Biro v. Conde Nast, 883 F.Supp.2d 441 (2012))

Biro appealed the case, and the Second Circuit discussed 2 main points: 1) Whether Biro is a limited-purpose public figure; and 2) what is required for a defamation claimed by a limited-purpose public figure to stand. The Court ruled that Biro was a limited-purpose public figure. It ruled that: 1) Biro successfully invited public attention to his views in an effort to influence others to the incident that is the subject of litigation by inviting public scrutiny of his forensic methods to authenticate art by participating in several documentaries; 2) Biro voluntarily injected himself into a public controversy related to the subject of litigation by agreeing to frequent interviews; 3) Biro assumed a position of prominence in the public controversy by seeking and obtaining clients and fame in the process; and 4) Biro maintained regular and continuing access to the media by resorting to the press to defend his position on various controversies. ( Lerman v. Flynt Distrib. Co., 745 F.2d 123, 136-37 (2nd Cir. 1984))

The Court also ruled that a plaintiff who is a limited-purpose public figure must plausibly allege actual malice in a defamation claim. The plaintiff must allege sufficient facts that the defendant acted with actual malice when it comes to the alleged defamatory remarks.

Although celebrities and public figures accept the reality that personal attacks are part of public life; sometimes, an ordinary person's actions make him or her an unwilling celebrity. This in turn results in the person's loss of some rights that are only afforded to private citizens.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 11, 2016 1:11 PM.

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