Feb 28, 2019

TLo Obtains Summary Judgment for The New York Times and Eric Lipton in UF Professor Defamation Lawsuit

The legal team from Thomas & LoCicero represented the Times in this victory which upholds protected speech and the fair report privilege.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida granted summary judgment to The New York Times Company and journalist Eric Lipton.  The lawsuit, Kevin Folta, Ph.D., vs. The New York Times Company and Eric Lipton, filed in September of 2017, centered around an article written by Mr. Lipton documenting the relationships major biotechnology and organics food industry players cultivated with public academics to help further their respective messaging regarding the safety of GMO food products.  Dr. Folta’s relationships with biotechnology industry giants like Monsanto were detailed in his University of Florida (UF) public records emails. 

Agreeing with lawyers from Thomas & LoCicero, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that Florida’s fair report privilege protected most of the statements complained of with the remaining few statements found not to be defamatory or protected option.  “The fair report privilege exists largely enshrined in state and federal court jurisprudence alone.  It is only as strong as the courts that enforce it.  In applying the privilege, this Court is mindful of the instructive nature of the Florida Constitution and the legislature’s direction in Florida’s Public Records Law.  Both these sources indicate a weighty significance placed on citizen oversight of their government – oversight that is assisted and largely effectuated by reliance on a free press to investigate and report on government action.”

“We are very pleased with the results of this case,” explained Carol LoCicero, member of the legal team.  “We have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the New York Times for many years.  This win is not only significant for the Times and its reporter Eric Lipton, but for all members of the press.  It is critical that our democracy uphold a free press promised in the First Amendment. “

With offices in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Thomas & LoCicero is a Florida law firm that is widely known, respected and committed to free speech and a free press.  The firm represents the industry’s leading electronic and traditional publishers, as well as individual journalists, bloggers and influencers of social media on issues ranging from news gathering to invasion of privacy, from defamation to pre-publication review.  At the heart of the firm’s mission is to champion free speech and defend journalism every day.

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