Bare-breasted woman ordered to pay newspaper’s legal fees

Friday, April 24, 1998

A Georgia state court judge recently tagged an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit “frivolous” and ordered its plaintiff and her attorneys to pay the legal expenses of the defendant, according to the Fulton County Daily Report.


Fulton State Court Judge M. Yvette Miller originally rejected the lawsuit in January, ruling that the newspaper had the right to publish a picture of Danielle Munoz’s naked torso, showing a heart-shaped dangle attached to her left nipple. The photo was used to illustrate a 1996 article about the woman’s earlier lawsuit over a piercing studio’s unauthorized use of the same picture in an ad.


The newspaper’s attorneys had argued that since the picture was obtained from files of the DeKalb State Court, its publication was protected. They cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Cox v. Cohn (1975), in which the high court held that a state cannot impose liability in a civil case for accurate reporting of matters contained in the public record, even if that material may be distasteful to some.


“It’s up to the Fulton Daily (Report) to decide what’s newsworthy and what should be printed,” Miller said in granting the newspaper summary judgment. Miller also noted that Danielle Munoz had failed to demonstrate how her reputation had been damaged or how her rights had been violated.


After the January ruling, the Daily Report filed a motion to recover the cost of entertaining the $150,000 damage suit.


“It’s a nice consolation to recover your costs, but the truth of the matter is that it’s still been an inconvenience and a disservice to the court, to us and to clients on the other side,” said S. Richard Gard Jr., Daily Report editor and publisher.


Gard told freedomforum.org: “This is a lawsuit that should have never been brought. They continue to churn on and on.”


Munoz’s attorney, S. Robert Hahn, was not available for comment. After losing the case in January, however, Hahn said that the paper’s First Amendment defense does not qualify in this case, but “the First Amendment was their strongest weapon and they beat that drum as hard as they could.” He said at the time he would appeal Miller’s decision, characterizing the summary judgment as an “errant ruling.”


Gard said Hahn’s appeal only means “more frivolous litigation costs our lawyers get to collect from the other side.”


In a recent article, Hahn was quoted as saying that publication of Munoz’s bare breast “wasn’t necessary. And I think that’s borne out by the fact that the last article about this in the Daily Report didn’t publish the picture.”


Responding to Hahn’s finding, Gard said: “I’m continually amazed at how Mr. Hahn’s mind works.”