1st Circuit Rules for Barbara Walters in Suit Claiming Book Misrepresented Boarding School Incident

A federal appeals court has ruled that a memoir by Barbara Walters did not defame a woman who attended boarding school with Walters’ daughter.

The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) on Tuesday that Walters’ statements in the book Audition: A Memoir were not defamatory as a matter of law. The National Law Journal has a story.

The plaintiff, Nancy Shay, attended a Connecticut boarding school with Walters’ daughter, Jackie Guber, in the early 1980s. Both landed in trouble, leading to Shay’s expulsion. Walters, who did not identify Nancy by last name, wrote this about the episode: “Jackie started to refuse to come home on weekends. She had a new friend named Nancy, whom the school kicked out midterm for bad behavior. She and Jackie had been found in a nearby town, high on God-knows-what. My daughter, though, was not told to leave. The school obviously did not want to lose Barbara Walters’ daughter.”

Shay contended she and Jackie were disciplined after they were found arm-in-arm in Shay’s bed, according to the 1st Circuit opinion. A federal judge had ruled Shay was not defamed because only a small group of people would recognize her as “Nancy,” and they would also know about the circumstances. The appeals court affirmed, and also rejected another argument advanced by Shay.

“The plaintiff tries to blunt the force of this reasoning,” the appeals court said, “by positing that a more expansive segment of the population may have learned her identity thanks to investigative journalists who, after she sued the defendant, republished more detailed versions of the story in newspapers, tabloids and blogs. But there is a rub: the filing of the suit was the plaintiff’s doing and, in all events, the republished statements were not made by the defendant.”

Shay told the National Law Journal she plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

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