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Fireman Lights Up Daily News on Using His Image

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - For an article about a sex scandal in the Philadelphia Fire Department, the New York Daily News used a photo of an innocent firefighter at an old ceremony honoring victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the fireman claims in court.

The Daily News ran the salacious article in question nearly a month ago, Jan. 29, 2015, with the "Heated Sex Scandal Surrounds Philadelphia Fire Department: 'It's Bad Stuff.'"

That headline appears unchanged on the tabloid's website , above a generic image of the department badge.

Francis Cheney II, a self-described "decorated Philadelphia firefighter," says the article previously boasted a picture of him "in uniform, and the caption identified plaintiff by name."

He sued the newspaper on Feb. 11, seeking punitive damages for false light - invasion of privacy, defamation - libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the complaint summarizes the article as describing "firefighters accused of having sex with a paramedic on- and off-duty," and discussing potential criminal charges those involved could face.

Cheney says the article would lead any reasonable reader to believe that he was involved in the sex scandal described below his picture, the suit claims.

Though the Daily News "has acknowledged that its placement of plaintiff's photo in between the headline and the article suggested that the plaintiff was involved in the "sex scandal," Cheney says it has failed to retract or delete the article.

The photo of Cheney that the Daily News ran with the article was actually taken in 2006 at a 9/11 tribute ceremony - a fact of which the defendants were also aware, the suit alleges.

On Jan. 30, one day after the original article appeared, the Daily News followed up with a new story further detailing the allegations of "abuse and degradation," which stated that the victim was "naked and barking like a dog, being paraded in what appeared to be a Philly fire station on a leash," according to the complaint.

It did not Cheney retract any "of the false information imputing plaintiff's involvement as a participant in the immoral and disgraceful actions," the complaint states.

In addition to maintaining that he "had no involvement in the alleged 'sex scandal' described in defendant's publication," Cheney insists that "no allegations or information exists suggesting" otherwise.

The lawsuit accuses the Daily News of "malicious behavior meant to irreparably damage plaintiff's reputation and standing within [his] community."

Cheney says he has been "flooded with messages" from family, friends, strangers and Fire Department colleagues since the article ran.

Because of the newspaper's recklessness, the career of "a decorated firefighter and committed public servant has been unfairly brought into scandal and reproach, and has been held up to odium, scorn and contempt" in the eyes of his family, colleagues and the public, according to the complaint.

Cheney is represented by Gonen Haklay with Cohen, Placitella and Roth.

New York Daily News representatives did not respond to requests for a comment.

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