NASHVILLE (CN) – A former “American Idol” contest who claimed he slept with then-judge Paula Abdul saw his false light claims against E! revived by a federal judge.
Corey Clark made the Top 10 in the second season of the show, but he was disqualified when TheSmokingGun.com reported a previous arrest on his record.
The Fox Broadcasting Co. said at the time that Clark was booted from the show because he didn’t disclose his arrest before appearing on the show. It also said it didn’t uncover his arrest during a customary background check because the singer’s name was misspelled in the police report.
But Clark did not go quietly.
“Sometime after his ouster from the contest, plaintiff publicly proclaimed that Ms. Abdul had been his mentor on the show, that the two had become romantically involved, and that he had an affair with Ms. Abdul while still a contestant on American Idol,” writes U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp in his opinion.
:Ms. Abdul has publicly denied the charges,” Sharp continued. “In response to plaintiff’s claimed relationship with Ms. Abdul, Fox issued a series of statements in 2005.”
Fox questioned Clark’s motives and said that there was no evidence to support his claims of a sexual relationship with Abdul.
E! Entertainment Television broadcast a 90-minute biographical show about Abdul’s career in 2005, and that show was updated and rebroadcast in 2012. It includes the story of Clark’s disqualification and the alleged affair, and paraphrased Fox Broadcasting’s statements about both.
“A voiceover states that Ms. Abdul initially made no public statement, but later claimed plaintiff’s allegations were lies. The program goes on to describe media and fan reactions to the story, and reports that an investigation by independent counsel hired by Fox found that plaintiff’s claims regarding the alleged affair were not substantiated,” Sharp wrote.
“This topic concludes with a clip of USA Today’s Elysa Gardner stating, ‘At the end of the day maybe only the two of them know what really happened.’ Towards the end of the program, the narrator states, ‘[t]he former ‘Laker girl’ who taught Janet Jackson how to be ‘nasty’ – and shot ‘straight up’ the pop charts herself – proved time and again that she’s tough enough to stay on top.”
Clark sued E! and Fox for defamation and false light invasion of privacy, but a federal judge in Nashville tossed his claims because they were time-barred.
However, Sharp concluded the 2012 rebroadcast of the Abdul biography changed the situation.
He held the “republication doctrine” recognized by Tennessee courts came into play with the 2012 broadcast, and therefore, Clark’s complaint is timely because it was filed within a year of that showing.
In addition to granting Clark’s motion to vacate the prior order, Sharp held that some of the singer’s false light claims against E! remain alive because it is too early to determine whether any actual malice was involved in the creation of the show.
“When the facts are construed in a light most favorable to plaintiff, one conclusion that can be drawn from the program is that E! intentionally chose to present the information in such a way as to infer that plaintiff made up the affair, and also that he did so in an effort to advance his career at the expense of Ms. Abdul’s,” Sharp wrote. “This may be a tough sell, but it is not something the court can determine based on the pleadings. Further, a reasonable person could find such a portrayal or the implications of such a portrayal to be highly offensive. As such, the court will not dismiss plaintiff’s false light claim as to defendant E! at this time.”
False light claims against Fox were thrown out because the program was produced by E! and, while E! paraphrased Fox statements about Clark, Fox had no role in producing the program.
In addition, Clark has no defamation claim against E! or Fox because the Abdul biography didn’t have a defamatory meaning, Sharp ruled.
“As noted previously, in determining whether a statement is defamatory, context matters. Viewed in context, the program reports both plaintiff’s claim of an affair and Ms. Abdul’s denials, but takes no affirmative position in the dispute,” he wrote. “It did not adopt Ms. Abdul’s statements or claim that they were accurate – E! simply reported them. In fact, the program explicitly states, ‘only the two of them know what really happened.'”
Clark claimed that the program was capable of a defamatory meaning because the E! narrator’s assertion that Abdul was “tough enough to stay on top” implied that she overcame his lies . But Sharp disagreed, pointing out that the statement came after unrelated segments in the biography.
“As for the statement that Ms. Abdul was ‘tough enough to stay on top,’ even out of context it is incapable of defamatory meaning and, when considered in context, is clearly not defamatory,” the judge wrote.
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