A Cup of Joe | Tenant Sues WPIX News For Reporting Landlord’s Unflattering Sign In Front Of House

This week’s case is about the media’s exposure to lawsuits when reporting the news.  

Fred rented an apartment of a building owned by Mary. Fred fell behind in the rent. Mary put up a sign in front of the house: “My tenant FRED GALLIPOLI didn’t pay his rent for three (3) months, almost (4) months!!”

Stephanie Tsoflias, a reporter for WPIX LLC, who along with a camera operator, was assigned to prepare a news report on the sign, which consisted primarily of an interview of Mary. The report aired live on WPIX LLC’s PIX11 newscast.

Here is the report:

STEPHANIE  (PIX 11): Mary Necoletti’s got tenant troubles –

MARY: I have a tenant that does not like to pay his rent. He’d rather sleep all day.

STEPHANIE (PIX 11 ): And isn’t afraid to air her woes with the world –

MARY: I have to get some revenge him sitting up there all these months [sic]. I want people that come in and out or passing, they’re all taking pictures of the sign for some reason; to, you know, make people know what type of person he is.

STEPHANIE (PIX 11 ): People in Dyker Heights might not know him personally, but they certainly know his name, and that Fred Gallipoli is seriously behind on his payments.

ALDO (Mary’s son): First couple of months were okay; third month, start to slow down; fourth month, start to slow down; so, I believe around November he bounced a check on us [sic]. “

STEPHANIE (PIX 11 ): She [Mary Nicoletti] says two days after the sign went up she came home to find this orange graffiti all over her front stairs which forced her to put up this surveillance camera. Now, the Nicolleti’s have been landlord’s here in Brooklyn for 40 years and say all of this is a first.

ALDO: We’re a working family. We’re not, you know, we don’t have 25 houses [sic].

STEPHANIE: [Mary Nicoletti] and her son Aldo said that they did a background check before renting out the second floor space to Fred. They claim he is a retired city sanitation worker who can afford the $800 a month. But when we attempted to get Fred’s side of the story, our knocks went unanswered. He’s gone on record saying Mary declined to take his check. The Nicolleti’s though have hired a lawyer and can only hope their public plea for Fred to cough up the cash works.

MARY: I don’t want to do anything illegal, you know, I got the lawyer working on it, and he said maybe six weeks we could evict him.

STEPHANIE Stephanie Tsoflias PIX 11 news.

Fred, the tenant, sued Stephanie and WPIX for defamation. Stephanie and WPIX filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Here is what happened:

Defamation cases are tricky.  To recover damages for defamation there has to be a false statement that is published without permission or the authority given by the person that is the subject of the statement. Fred has to prove that WPIX acted in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties.  “Gross irresponsibility” means: did WPIX utilize methods of verification that were reasonably calculated to produce an accurate copy?

The court dismissed the case against WPIX and Stephanie. In the decision, the court noted that  “in judging the reasonableness of the verification efforts, courts should consider the ease with which the truth may be found and cannot expect a news organization to engage in an obviously futile investigation.”  In addition, the court commented that there did not appear to be any reason for WPIX to have doubted the veracity of Mary in providing her version of the story. WPIX did not act in a grossly irresponsible manner in preparing, broadcasting and posting the report. Fred’s case against Mary, however, will proceed.

Here is the case:  http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/pdfs/2018/2018_33073.pdf

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Q: Can You Sue the Media for Defamation?

A: You can sue the media for defamation if you can prove that they have acted in a “grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties”.

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