Friday, June 6, 2008

Libel suit against ethnic newspaper fails - actual malice not shown

Wang v. Tang No. 01-08-00009-CV (Tex.App.- Houston [1st Dist.] June 5, 2008)(Higley) (interlocutory appeal, media defendant, libel, no malice)
Opinion by
Justice Laura Carter Higley
Before Chief Justice Radack, Justices Keyes and Higley
Jianguang Wang and Yellow Emperor Communications, Inc., d/b/a Houston Chinese Press v. David Y. Tang
Appeal from 164th District Court of Harris County
Trial Court
Judge: Hon. Martha Hill Jamison
Disposition: Reverse Trial Court judgment and render judgment

Applicable Principles

In defamation suits involving public figures, the actual malice standard serves to protect innocent but erroneous speech on public issues, while deterring “calculated falsehoods.” See Turner v. KTRK Television, Inc., 38 S.W.3d 103, 120 (Tex. 2000). A showing of “actual malice” in a defamation suit requires proof that the defendant made a statement with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false. New Times, Inc. v. Isaacks, 146 S.W.3d 144, 162 (Tex. 2004); Huckabee, 19 S.W.3d at 420. Reckless disregard is a subjective standard, focusing on the defendant’s state of mind. Isaacks, 146 S.W.3d at 162; Bentley v. Bunton, 94 S.W.3d 561, 591 (Tex. 2002). Specifically, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication, or had a high degree of awareness of the probable falsity of the published information. Isaacks, 146 S.W.3d at 162 (citing Bentley, 94 S.W.3d at 591) (internal quotations omitted). A public figure may rely on circumstantial evidence to prove a defendant’s state of mind. Bentley, 94 S.W.3d at 591.

HOLDING: The summary judgment record establishes, as a matter of law, that the Houston Chinese Press did not publish the alleged defamatory remarks with actual malice. Tang has not carried his summary judgment burden to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists with regard to the actual malice element.We hold that the Houston Chinese Press is entitled to summary judgment.

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