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Solano v. Playgirl, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. Jose Solano, Jr.,  (P) was a TV celebrity who was allegedly represented in a false light by Playgirl (D) magazine, by the implication that he endorsed it or was represented in the nude inside the magazine, without any factual basis, since he had not posed for, given an interview to or appeared nude in the magazine.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. It is not appropriate to grant summary judgment in a false light case where a celebrity plaintiff gives sufficient evidence for a jury to reasonably decide that the defendant did create a false impression of the plaintiff which could be very offensive, and could highly injure the plaintiff’s reputation; and that the defendant published this false impression with malice in a legal sense; and that actual injury resulted to the plaintiff by this false impression.

    Facts.  The January 1999 issue of Playgirl magazine showed Jose Solano, Jr., one of the main characters in “Baywatch†from 1996 to 1999. The picture showed him shirtless and in the red lifeguard trunks which were his “Baywatch†uniform. The heading read: “TV Guys. PRIMETIME’S SEXY YOUNG STARS EXPOSED.†Other suggestive headings ran across the page from left to right and from top to bottom, touting various sex toys, sex techniques and nude centerfolds of celebrities. One actually read: “Baywatch’s Best Body, Jose Solano.†The effect of the cover, taken in conjunction with the magazine’s routine practice of presenting photographs of men in various nude and explicit poses was to suggest that Solano appeared in nude photos inside the magazine. In truth, Solano appeared only as a quarter-page photo of him dressed in tee shirt and sweater, with a quarter-page profile. He sued Playgirl, on the ground that it had intentionally created the false idea in the public that he was willing to sell himself to such a magazine. The trial court granted summary judgment to Playgirl and Solano appealed. The court of appeals granted review.

    Issue. Is it appropriate to grant summary judgment in a false light case where a celebrity plaintiff gives sufficient evidence for a jury to reasonably decide that the defendant did create a false impression of the plaintiff which could be very offensive, and could highly injure the plaintiff’s reputation; and that the defendant published this false impression with malice in a legal sense; and that actual injury resulted to the plaintiff by this false impression?

    Held. (Fisher, J.) No. It is not appropriate to grant summary judgment in a false light case where a celebrity plaintiff gives sufficient evidence for a jury to reasonably decide that the defendant did create a false impression of the plaintiff which could be very offensive, and could highly injure the plaintiff’s reputation; and that the defendant published this false impression with malice in a legal sense; and that actual injury resulted to the plaintiff by this false impression. Solano had to present the following evidence: (1) Playgirl had revealed false information about Solano to one or more persons which purported to be true but was false or created a false impression about him. (2) The information passed on was understood by the persons who received it as being a factual statement or implication of something that was highly offensive and would probably injure Solano’s good name. (3) Clear and convincing evidence that Playgirl had acted with an intention to injure him, or malice under the constitution. (4) Solano suffered damages by the information disclosed. In this case, it was reasonable for a jury to conclude that the Playgirl cover implied that Solano was not a clean and decent person as was thought hitherto, that he was ready to sell himself or was in such desperate straits that he had to sell himself naked to the magazine. He also presented evidence that the magazine’s editors had knowingly or without regard for possible consequences to him allowed this false impression to be created. There was clear proof that some of the editors had brought up this possibility beforehand. The question of damages is settled by Solano’s showing that he was embarrassed. The verdict is reversed.

    Dissent. N/A

     

    Concurrence. N/A

    Discussion. Some courts argue that a false light tort is needless since the same matter can be covered by a defamation suit, or on the other hand it raises questions as to free speech. However, other courts are of the opinion that a false light tort is useful in filling in the gaps in the defamation law.


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