Newspaper and reporter prevail on motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit

Mandell Menkes lawyers prevailed on a motion to dismiss a defamation suit on behalf of a Rockford newspaper and reporter. The matter arose following publication of an article detailing a public meeting of the Winnebago County Board Economic Development Committee.

A reporter from the newspaper attended the meeting, and wrote an article about the Committee’s decision to terminate a substantial loan made to a local couple in connection with a federal grant intended to spur the creation of local jobs.  The loan agreement between the county and local couple required the couple to open and operate a nursing home and create certain low to moderate income jobs in the county.  The couple was unable to open or operate the nursing home and, as a result, the county called in the loan and presented the couple with a resolution allowing them to sell certain collateral for the purpose of repaying the outstanding loan balance to the county.  These decisions were announced at the subject Committee meeting.  Following publication of the article, the couple sued the newspaper, the reporter, an Assistant State’s Attorney for Winnebago County and the Director of the Office of Regional Planning and Economic Development for Winnebago County for defamation arising from statements made in the article and at the Committee meeting.  The newspaper and reporter moved to dismiss the complaint (the remaining defendants, represented by separate counsel, also moved to dismiss) on the grounds that (1) the statements in the article were neither defamatory per se or defamatory quod (2) the statement in the article were capable of innocent construction and (3) the newspaper and reporter were protected by the fair report privilege.  On October 4, 2010, the parties presented oral arguments on the motion and the court granted the all defendants’ motions to dismiss based on innocent construction and, for the newspaper and reporter, the reporter’s privilege. Mandell Menkes partner Steven Mandell and associate Natalie Harris drafted the motion to dismiss briefs and argued the motion.