• Texas Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Claims against Dallas Morning News
  • February 27, 2006 | Author: Richard M. Goehler
  • Law Firm: Frost Brown Todd LLC - Cincinnati Office
  • In Humane Society of Dallas vs. Dallas Morning News LP, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the newspaper defendants in a defamation action stemming from a column about a family's experience in discovering their lost dog at an adoption event sponsored by the plaintiff.

    In this action, the Humane Society of Dallas filed suit against the Dallas Morning News and columnist Steve Blow who had written a column published by the paper about a family's experience after discovering the family's lost dog at an adoption event sponsored by the Humane Society. The Dallas Morning News filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that they were entitled to the judgment as a matter of law on the defamation claim because the column was not defamatory; it was an opinion protected by the Texas and United States constitutions; was fair comment and criticism protected by Texas statute; was true or substantially true; and finally because the Humane Society was public figure and not able to prove actual malice as a matter of law. The trial court, after considering the motion (and a supplemental motion) filed by the media defendants, found that summary judgment was appropriate and dismissed the claims of the Humane Society.

    On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed after reviewing the standards for summary judgment in Texas . Here, the trial court had not specified the basis for its ruling and, therefore, according to the court of appeals, it was the burden of the Humane Society, the appellant, to show that each of the independent grounds asserted in support of the summary judgment were insufficient. Upon review, the court of appeals found that the Humane Society did not contend either in its response to summary judgment or in its appellant briefs that the column was not fair comment and criticism protected by the Texas statute. The court noted that the Humane Society did not address or discuss in any way in its appellate briefs the ground asserted by the Dallas Morning News that it was not liable for publication of the article because pursuant to Texas statute the column was privileged as a fair comment or criticism on a matter of public concern. Even after Dallas Morning News argued in its brief that summary judgment should be affirmed because the Humane Society had failed to address this ground, the Humane Society still do not address or discuss the privilege in its reply brief.

    Accordingly, the Texas court of appeals found that since the Humane Society was entitled to present argument on all grounds upon which it contended summary judgment was improper and had failed to do so, the court affirmed summary judgment with respect to the defamation claim.