Media & Communications Law

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

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By refusing to hear an appeal this week by the company that publishes Hustler magazine, the U.S. Supreme Court has given a green light to a privacy lawsuit filed by the mother of former professional wrestler Chris Benoit’s murdered wife.

The magazine published decades-old nude photographs of Nancy Benoit after she was murdered in 2007 by her husband, professional wrestler Chris Benoit. He also murdered their 7-year-old son in the family’s suburban Atlanta home before committing suicide.

A federal district court in Georgia dismissed the right-of-publicity lawsuit filed by Maureen Toffoloni on behalf of her daughter’s estate, finding that they related to a legitimate matter of public concern. However, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, explaining in a written opinion (PDF) last year that the magazine’s constitutional rights had to be balanced with Toffoloni’s, “with an eye toward that which is reasonable and that which resonates with our community morals,” according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The Reporters Committee and other journalism groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to hear the appeal, but it declined to do so Monday.

At issue in the case, explains CNN, was whether the right of privacy implicated in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was trumped by the press freedom provided for in the First Amendment.

Toffoloni alleged in her lawsuit that the photographer had agreed at the time the nude photos were shot to destroy them. However, he apparently kept a videotape from which the photos published by Hustler in March 2008 reportedly were taken.

Nancy Benoit was also a professional wrestler and worked as a model before marrying Chris Benoit.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Affidavit: Wrestler Got ‘Excessive’ Steroids”

ABAJournal.com: “Benoit Doc: ‘Roid Rage an Unknown”

ABAJournal.com: “Classic Exam Question in Benoit Case: Who Died When?”

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