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Pro Bono Client Wins Appeal in Defamation Suit

Paul, Weiss helped pro bono client Lisa Rung win her appeal in a defamation suit in the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Ms. Rung was sued by Robert Weidlich for posting a photograph of Mr. Weidlich’s car on Facebook and calling Mr. Weidlich a white supremacist. The photograph showed that Mr. Weidlich’s car had bumper stickers on it displaying the Confederate battle flag and promoting the League of the South—a Southern Poverty Law Center-recognized southern nationalist hate group. During a bench trial, the Tennessee circuit court determined that Ms. Rung’s comment was actionable for defamation because Ms. Rung did not make the statement “sound like her opinion,” but instead made it sound like a fact.

On appeal, Paul, Weiss and the ACLU of Tennessee argued, among other things, that Ms. Rung’s statement was protected commentary on the disclosed, non-defamatory fact that Mr. Weidlich’s car had a bumper sticker for the League of the South on it. The court of appeals agreed and held that the trial court had impermissibly focused on the language of Ms. Rung’s Facebook post while ignoring the context in which it was made, which included the photograph accompanying the statement. “So informed, readers were free to accept or reject [Ms.] Rung’s opinion as they saw fit,” the court concluded. The appeals court also went out of its way to note that Mr. Weidlich had injected himself into larger discussions about race by driving in public with bumper stickers with Confederate symbolism on his car.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation partner Gregory Laufer, associates Stephen Thompson (who argued the case in Nashville), Christopher Filburn, Matthew Merlo, David Pucino, Kelly Garcia, Michael Pernick andMarissa Doran; and pro bono counsel Emily Goldberg.

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