MANHATTAN (CN) — MSNBC host Joy Reid could be liable for spreading a viral image that depicted a fervid confrontation over immigration policy, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday, reviving a Trump supporter’s suit.
Taken in Simi Valley, California, the photograph showed a woman sporting a bright red Make America Great Again hat appearing to yell at hoodie-wearing Latino teenager during a 2018 city council meeting on the California Values Act, a so-called “sanctuary city” bill that ensures no state and local resources are used to assist federal immigration enforcement.
When activist Alan Vargas tweeted the photograph, his caption indicated that the boy had been subjected to a host of vulgar threats including, “You are going to be the first deported” and “dirty Mexican.”
“This woman needs to be put on blast,” Vargas wrote.
Reid, who has 1.24 million followers on Twitter, was among those who took up the call, disseminating the image on Facebook and Instagram as well.
When the woman beneath the hat, Roslyn La Liberte, went to court, however, she noted that video footage showed that her so-called confrontation with the teen was more inspiring than inflammatory, even ending on a hug.
La Liberte brought the complaint in the Eastern District of New York, where Reid lives, and she appealed to the Second Circuit in the spring after U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry ruled that her suit failed to show that the misleading images were spread with actual malice.
Irizarry, a George W. Bush appointee, determined that the malice standard applied because La Liberte’s voluntary injection of herself into a specific public controversy made her a limited purpose public figure.
On Wednesday, the Second Circuit disagreed.
“La Liberte was not a public figure on the matter in controversy, primarily because she lacked the regular and continuing media access that is a hallmark of public-figure status,” U.S. Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for a three-judge panel. “Accordingly, she was not required to allege that Reid acted with actual malice as to either post.”
Jacobs instructed the lower court to consider on remand “whether La Liberte adequately alleged that Reid acted negligently with respect to that post, the standard for private-figure plaintiffs.”
“We are disappointed that the case was not dismissed, but that doesn’t change the fact that the case is completely without merit and we will vigorously contest it,” Reid’s attorney, John Reichman, said Wednesday in an email.
MSNBC announced last week that it has tapped Reid, known as the host of weekend-morning talk show “AM Joy,” to take over a new nightly show on the network, making her the first Black woman to host a prime-time network news show since PBS’ Gwen Ifill, who died in November 2016.
Another aspect of Irizarry’s ruling was to award Reid attorneys’ fees under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) statute.
On this point, too, however, the circuit panel determined that the law is not applicable because it increases the burden plaintiffs have to overcome to pretrial dismissal, which conflicts with federal rules.
The issue has created a circuit split, with Reid urging reliance on the Ninth Circuit, “which holds that California’s anti-SLAPP statute and the Federal Rules ‘can exist side by side … without conflict,’” Jacobs wrote.
“We disagree — as do a number of Ninth Circuit judges,” the judge added, siding instead with the holding of the Fifth, 11th and D.C. Circuits.