Constitutional Law

Will Hustler Magazine Pay $19.6M, $250K or Zip for Running Nude Photos of Slain Woman Without OK?

After a professional wrestler made headlines by killing his wife, his son and himself in 2007, a magazine known for its hard-core pornography published, without permission, nude photos from decades earlier that it obtained of Chris Benoit’s wife, Nancy.

A federal jury in Georgia last year awarded $19.6 million in punitive damages in the case, as well as $125,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge almost immediately cut the judgment to $250,000, however, citing the state’s cap on punitive damages, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time.

Attorney Richard Decker, who represented the family of Nancy Toffolini Benoit, vowed to appeal and seek reinstatement of the $19.6 million award, citing an exception to the damages cap, when it can be shown that the defendant “acted … with intent to harm.”

Now he has done so, and in arguments yesterday before the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the magazine, which also appealed, contended that the case should never have been tried. Calling Nancy Benoit, a former model and professional wrestler, a celebrity, he said the publication of her nude photos was protected by the First Amendment because her murder was a newsworthy matter of public concern, the First Amendment Center reports.

An earlier post provides additional details about the family’s right of publicity suit:

Mom’s Privacy Suit Over Old Hustler Pix of Murdered Daughter Gets Green Light

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