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Media Alerts - Martin v. Hearst Corporation - Second Circuit
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January 28, 2015
  Martin v. Hearst Corporation - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Defamation Claims Against Media Outlets that Published and Refused to Remove Reports of Petitioner's Arrest, Although Charges Were Later Nolled and the Arrest Erased Under Connecticut Criminal Records Erasure Statute.

Area of Law: Torts

Issue(s) Presented: Whether an individual who's arrest is erased under Connecticut's Criminal Records Erasure Statute may assert libel and related publication-related tort claims against media outlets that published contemporaneous news accounts of her arrest, on the ground that those accounts had become false or misleading.

Brief Summary: Plaintiff-appellant Martin was arrested in 2010 for various drug-related offenses. Three newspapers owned by defendant-appellee Hearst Corporation, and another media outlet, published accurate online reports of the arrest. More than one year after the published reports, the criminal case against Martin was nolled and her arrest warrant was erased pursuant to Connecticut's Criminal Records Erasure Statute. After the defendant-appellees refused her request to remove the stories from their website, Martin sued, asserting libel and other publication-related tort claims. The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut awarded summary judgment to the defendants on all claims and plaintiff appealed. The Second Circuit affirmed.

The full text of the opinion may be found at:

Extended Summary (if applicable): Plaintiff-appellant Lorraine Martin was arrested on August 20, 2010 and charged with various offenses related to the possession of narcotics and drug paraphernalia. Within the week, three newspapers owned by defendant-appellee Heart Corporation, as well as defendant-appellee News 12 Interactive LLC, accurately published articles online reporting Martin's arrest.

More than one year after the defendants published the reports, the State of Connecticut decided not to pursue its case against Martin. The charges against Martin were "nolled" under the statute and her arrest records were erased under Connecticut's Criminal Law Erasure Statute. That statute provides that "[a]ny person who shall have been the subject of such an erasure shall be deemed to have never been arrested." Thereafter, Martin requested that the defendants remove the articles reporting her arrest from their websites; the Defendants refused. The articles remain available online.

Martin brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut asserting libel, placing another in a false light before the public, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy by appropriation claims. Despite conceding that the report of her arrest were accurate when first published, Martin claimed that publishing the statements became false and defamatory once the charges against her were nolled. Reasoning that the truth of the reports of Martin's arrest remained the same, and the Erasure Statute did not change the historical fact that Martin was arrested, the District Court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all claims.

On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's grant of summary judgment for defendants. The court interpreted the Criminal Records Erasure Statute as providing to applicable parties, as a matter of "legal fiction," the legal status of someone who has never been arrested. The court concluded that, although this bars government and courts from relying on a defendant's erased record, and allows a defendant to swear under oath that she has never been arrested, it was not intended to provide a basis for defamation suits. Erasure, the court found, while effective in the context of the judicial and law enforcement systems, does not undo historical facts or convert facts into falsehoods. Additionally, the court found that the news organizations' failure to report an update to the Martin arrest could not constitute defamation by implication, because the news reports at issue did not imply any fact that was not true.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel (if known): Judges Walker, Jacobs, Wesley

Argument Date: 08/18/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/28/2015

Docket Number: 13-3315

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Samantha Kopf

Counsel: Ryan O'Neill (Mark Sherman, on the brief), The Law Offices of Mark Sherman, LLC, Stamford, CT, for Plaintiff-Appellant; Jonathan R. Donnellan (Courtenay O'Connor, on the brief), Hearst Corporation, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellee Hearst Corporation, David A. Schulz (Cameron Stracher, on the brief), Levin Sullivan Kock & Schulz, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellee News 12 Interactive.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wesley

Circuit: 2nd Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Elyse Diamond Moskowitz

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 01/28/2015 06:58 PM     2nd Circuit  

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