Philadelphia Firefighter’s Suit Against NY Daily News Over Photo Is Reinstated

A US Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court ruling in the case of a Philadelphia firefighter whose photo was used in news story about a sex scandal in the department. As a result, the firefighter’s suit against the NY Daily News has been reinstated.

Firefighter Francis X. Cheney II sued the NY Daily News last year alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress over a photo of Cheney that accompanied a headline story about a sex scandal in the Philadelphia Fire Department. Cheney had nothing to do with the sex scandal and claimed that numerous people who saw the headline assumed he was involved. The case was promptly dismissed by US District Court Judge Stewart Dalzell in May of last year.

Chaney appealed to the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, who reversed Judge Dalzell on two of the three counts, upholding only his ruling on intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Here is the pertinent language from the ruling:

  • the Daily News article described a scandal in which dozens of firefighters were accused of scandalous behavior, and the caption identifying Cheney was the only reference to any firefighter.
  • The photograph was placed directly next to the text of the article and underneath the headline introducing the scandal. Considering that many firefighters were implicated and Cheney’s was the only name in the publication, a reasonable reader could conclude that the inclusion of his photograph and name meant to suggest that the text of the article concerned him
  • Because we hold that a reasonable person could understand that the Daily News article concerned Cheney, the District Court erred in dismissing Cheney’s defamation claim on that basis.
  • The District Court dismissed Cheney’s false light invasion of privacy claim on the same erroneous basis for which it dismissed his defamation claim. Because we find that a reasonable reader could understand the article to be “of and concerning” Cheney, we hold that the District Court also erred in dismissing Cheney’s false light invasion of privacy claim.

Here is a copy of the ruling: Cheney v NY Daily News APPEAL

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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