The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Jeter v. McKeithen et al., dismissed defamation and defamation by implication claims brought by a teenager against Florida television station WJHG challenging accurate reporting of her arrest for felony cyberbullying for running a Facebook smut page called Panama City's Trashiest.
Dismissing both claims against WJHG, and addressing an obvious but open issue in Florida defamation law, Judge Richard Smoak rejected the plaintiff's claim that the fair report privilege did not apply to implied defamation claims: "For the avoidance of doubt: the qualified news media privilege does apply to defamation by implication claims in Florida."
The plaintiff's claims were premised on two news reports about her felony case for cyberbullying, which prosecutors later abandoned. She alleged that statements obtained from police in WJHG's initial report that the minors could face charges as adults created a defamatory implication that there was more evidence against her than in most cases of minors facing charges as adults. She also claimed that the broadcasting of her mug shot with the word "suspect" over it implied that she was guilty, and that the station's reporting from the court document dismissing the charges in the second news report was defamatory. She made these allegations despite conceding in her complaint that the station accurately reported the information obtained both from the investigator and the court document.
The court granted WJHG's motion to dismiss finding "entirely without merit" the plaintiff's argument that the fair report privilege did not extend to defamation by implication claims. The court held that the statements in the broadcasts were substantially accurate and privileged.