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To Be Fair, Report On Pleadings Must Be Accurate

The “fair reporting” privilege for documents filed with a court trumps actual malice as long as the report is an accurate summary of the pleadings, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled.

The court said the privilege starts from the time a pleading is filed with the court. There does not have to be any court action for the privilege to apply. What this means is that a reporter cannot be sued for defamation if her or she accurately reports on defamatory statements appearing in court pleadings.

The court found that “the fair report privilege does not yield to allegations that a media defendant reported with actual malice false statements made in an official proceeding.” The court said the privilege attaches as soon as a pleading is filed.

However, the court found that in order to fall under the privilege, the reporter “must be as fair as they are ardent if they are to help the public assess the value of our government in action.” This does not mean that the reporter must “possess the same skills as lawyers” in writing the article.

The case concerned an action for defamation brought by a company that purchases patents and then aggressively enforces them. The actions of the company and its lawyers were reported in a series of articles in the publication. The court found some of the statements were libel per se but the reports were protected by the fair reporting privilege since they appeared in a complaint against the company. However, the court remanded the case for other statements the court found were not a “fair abridgement” of the court pleading but rather “baldly inaccurate.”

Solaia Technology LLC v. Specialty Publishing Co., Illinois Supreme Court No. 100555, Opinion issued June 22, 2006.

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