Speech Law Blog contributors Phillip J. Zisook and Brian D. Saucier Defend Client Charged with Defamation by “16 and Pregnant” Participant

In Head v. Chicory Media, LLC et al., Christina Head a/k/a Christina Robinson, a participant in the MTV reality show “16 and Pregnant”, sued multiple media entities, including Chicory Media LLC, which operates the popular internet celebrity news website Starcasm.net. Head claimed that she was defamed because Starcasm published excerpts from her deceased fiance’s Facebook page, which contained postings by his mother. Those postings expressed his mother’s doubts that the fiance’s drowning death was an accident. Head claimed that Starcasm’s article falsely accused her of participating in her fiance’s murder. The fiance’s drowning death was highlighted in both the promotions for “16 and Pregnant”and in the episode of the show featuring Head. Prior to Starcasm’s article, numerous media publications reported on Head’s tragic story in “16 and Pregnant” and the drowning death of her fiance while the season was being filmed. On July 12, 2013, the district court for the 71st Judicial District of Harrison County, Texas granted Chicory Media’s Motion to Dismiss,  finding that Head’s Complaint constituted an impermissible strategic lawsuit against public participation (a “SLAPP”). Chicory Media’s argued that Head, as a reality TV participant, was a limited purpose public figure who interjected her fiance’s drowning death as a focal point of her story and MTV’s promotion of the show, and that Chicory Media’s publication was a matter of public concern. On September 25, 2013, the court also granted Chicory Media’s Motion for Sanctions and awarded Chicory Media its attorneys’ fees pursuant to the Texas Citizen Participation Act. Co-defendants American Media, Inc. and Perez Hilton also prevailed in their respective motions to dismiss and fee requests.

The decision in Head demonstrates the continued viability of some states’ anti-SLAPP statutes notwithstanding a trend in some jurisdictions to narrow the scope of these statutes.

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