United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is defendant's, Cox Media Group
Northeast, LLC, d/b/a WHBQ TV/Fox 13 (“WHBQ TV”),
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim . The
plaintiffs, Joel Edward Rich and Todd Baggett, having
responded, and the defendant having filed its rebuttal, and
the Court having reviewed the parties' submissions, is
now prepared to rule.
plaintiffs were police officers employed by the Southaven
Mississippi Police Department. WHBQ TV is a local television
station in Memphis, Tennessee owned by Cox Media Group
Northeast LLC. WHBQ TV also operates a Facebook Page on which
it posts local stories. On September 29, 2017, WHBQ TV posted
an article on its Facebook page regarding the fatal shooting
of Ismael Lopez by the Southaven Police Department. The
article stated that WHBQ TV had obtained a list of officers
purportedly on duty at the time of the shooting. The article
then stated that, of the officers named on the list,
“two snakes stand out - Todd Baggett and Joel Rich,
” and that they had been involved in a previous police
incident involving Troy Goode in 2015. The article further
stated that “Baggett and Rich are not accused of being
the ones who shot Lopez.” The morning after the article
was posted, WHBQ TV was alerted about the “snake
reference.” WHBQ TV responded by removing the reference
to “snakes” and included a note that read:
“UpDated: in a previous version of this story, an error
was made describing two Southaven police officers in an
unflattering manner. It was never our intent to misrepresent
these officers. We have corrected the body of this story to
reflect that. We apologize for the error.”
updated article is still accessible on WHBQ TV's website.
WHBQ TV stated that the reference to the plaintiffs as
“snakes” was a typographical error - which was
made by a reporter who typed the words on her phone.
article was attached as an exhibit to the defendant's
motion to dismiss. In Haynes v. The Innocence
Project the Southern District of Mississippi determined:
When a defendant attaches evidence to a 12(b)(6) motion that
was referenced in the Complaint that is central to the
plaintiff's claims, the defendant merely assists the
plaintiff in establishing the basis of the suit, and the
court in making the elementary determination of whether a
claim has been stated.
Haynes v. The Innocence Project, No.
3:09-cv-218-KS-LRA, (S.D.Miss., 2011).
their complaint, the plaintiffs state that the
defendant's statements were intended to “harm,
embarrass and jeopardize” the plaintiffs. The
plaintiffs further allege that their families suffered severe
trauma as well as threats of harm and violence because of
these statements. Finally, the plaintiffs state that the
defendant's “false and malicious statements have
resulted in injury to [the plaintiffs'] personal and
professional reputation and have exposed them to public
hatred, contempt and ridicule and degraded them in the
community.” The plaintiffs have requested a total
retraction of the false statements as well as compensatory
and punitive damages against the defendant.
defendant filed the present motion, in which it argues that
the plaintiffs have not proved that the statements made in
the article were defamatory as a matter of law. Having
considered the parties' arguments, along with relevant
authorities and evidence, the Court finds as follows:
the Court can grant a motion to dismiss, a defendant must
show that the plaintiff has not met the relevant pleading
standard to state a claim. Specifically, a defendant must
show that the plaintiff's complaint fails to “state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697 (2009) (citing
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the
plaintiff pleads factual ...