Defamation Case Re-instated

Plaintiff Stanton’s photograph was placed alongside a article entitled “The Mating Habits of the Suburban High School Teenager” that ran in Boston magazine. The opinion describes the photograph this way: “[Stanton’s] is one of five young people pictured in a photograph that occupies the entire first page of the article and half of the facing page. The photograph, taken at a high school dance, depicts its three male and two female subjects in formal attire, sitting and standing near an open exit door in the background. Stanton’s image occupies most of the left-hand side of the photograph, where she appears standing, with her face and most of her body fully visible. Although three of the subjects are smoking cigarettes, and another holds a plastic cup, Stanton simply looks at the camera, smiling faintly.” The article talked about the level of sexual activity among high schoolers, etc. Stanton sued, saying that she was defamed.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed dismissal of the case, stating that the article “would tend to hold [her] up to scorn, hatred, ridicule or contempt, in the minds of [a] considerable and respectable segment in the community. A reasonable reader could believe that Stanton, who appears in the lead illustration for the article, is in fact one of the teens whose promiscuous behavior is described in its text.
Metro concedes for purposes of this appeal that “a statement that [Stanton] was ‘promiscuous’ might damage her reputation in the community.” Accordingly, we need not decide whether a false accusation of promiscuousness is defamatory. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we allow that other reasonable readers may take a different view. We conclude only that the article is susceptible to the defamatory meaning Stanton alleges, i.e., that she engages in sexually promiscuous conduct.” [Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.]