In Grant v. The Commercial Appeal, No. W2015-00208-COA-R3-CV (Sept. 18, 2015), plaintiff sued defendants for various causes of action related to an online and print newspaper article, although on appeal the only causes of action at issue were defamation and defamation by implication. The articles were about plaintiff’s involvement in a mall revitalization project in Memphis that had recently been approved by the Memphis City Council. The article, in part, contained information regarding the following:
- plaintiff failed to tell the City Council that he owed a large sum of money to the federal government;
- plaintiff “stated that he had no financial interest in the project, yet…various state records and other transactions [plaintiff] has been involved with suggested otherwise;”
- upon investigation, it was discovered that plaintiff had an office on the mall’s property;
- a city councilman was quoted as saying the project was the “worst project we ever approved” and that the city council was unaware that plaintiff was “one of the project’s principals;”
- a quote from a “frat brother” of plaintiff saying plaintiff worked on the mall project as an adviser for free;
- an online headline saying “Silent partner? [plaintiff’s] involvement clouds $1.5 million Southbrook Mall deal.”
Plaintiff asserted that “the substance of the articles [were] defamatory to him,” making it appear that he was dishonest and deceptive, and that defendants had acted with actual malice.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted on two bases: (1) “that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as the statements at issue ‘are not defamatory or capable of defamatory meaning,’” and (2) that the article fell within the fair report privilege.