Texas Supreme Court Rules That a Defamation Suit Against TMZ Can Proceed

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On May 8th, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision that a defamation suit brought by a former NFL player against TMZ can move forward.

Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Robert Jones sued TMZ and its parent company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, in Travis County District Court in 2015, one year after TMZ published a story alleging that Jones tried to hire Watson to kill his sports agent.

According to the complaint, Jones’s cousin, Theodore Watson, started harassing Jones for money after Watson was released from a penitentiary in Ohio. When Jones refused to give in, Watson leaked the fabricated hit man story to TMZ.

The story was published on June 18, 2014, and shortly after it was posted, Jones’s lawyer sent TMZ an email refuting the allegations, and called the TMZ reporter who wrote the piece.  The reporter immediately amended her original story, adding statements from Jones saying he “absolutely denies” all of the allegations.

The Internet tabloid left the story up on its site, so as the one-year statute of limitations expired, Jones sued TMZ, the reporter who wrote the story, and Warner Bros. In response, TMZ asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed under Texas’ Defamation Mitigation Act, claiming that Jones failed to request a correction, clarification or retraction of the story before the statute of limitations had run out.

The appeals court denied TMZ’s motion for dismissal, so the tabloid petitioned the Texas Supreme Court.

Justice Eva Guzman, writing for the majority, said that the lawyer’s communications with TMZ met the “timely and sufficient request” for correction required by the state’s Act. “Indeed, Jones’ agent contacted TMZ the very day the purportedly defamatory story was published – both by telephone and in writing – concerning the defamatory publication,” Guzman wrote. “Those communications did not include the words ‘I request a correction, clarification, or retraction,’ but the statute does not require such formality.”

The case has been remanded to trial court for further proceedings.

Courthouse News  Opinion