TV News Averts Prison Guard’s Claims

     (CN) – An Oregon corrections officer who says he was forced to move after appearing on a TV news report does not have negligence claims against the broadcast station, the state appeals court ruled.
     KPTV aired a story in 2010 about gunshots fired in the neighborhood where Patrick Mullen lives with his wife, Sarah. Some of the shots hit the Mullens’ house.
     Mullen works as a sergeant at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and some of the inmates who have been released have allegedly threatened to kill him.
     To maintain privacy, Mullen keeps his home address private, takes alternating routes to work, and lists the prison as his address when applying for hunting, fishing and driver’s licenses.
     Mullen claims he had an agreement with KPTV reporter Mark Hanrahan not to air footage of him during a report on the gunshots because of safety concerns. While Mullen did not appear on the evening news, he did appear for 3.4 seconds on a re-edited broadcast of the story on the morning news report, according to the ruling.
     When Mullen arrived at work, his co-workers and inmates told him that they had seen him on TV. One inmate allegedly said he would be able to discover where Mullen lived.
     The sergeant then moved his family out of the home and put it up for sale. Mullens and his wife sued Hanrahan and KPTV’s parent company, Meredith Corp., for breach of contract, negligence and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     A Marion County court denied Hanrahan and Meredith’s motion to strike the negligence and infliction of emotional distress claims under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, but the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the ruling July 17.
     Regarding the Mullens’ negligence claim, Judge Darleen Ortega said they “failed to allege the sort of damage to property or another legally protected interest independent of their contract with defendants that can support negligence liability for non-economic damages.”
     She also stated that Mullen and Hanrahan were “strangers to each other before the agreement,” which could not support the Mullens’ emotional distress claims.
     “At most, defendants unreasonably failed to make all of their employees aware of the promise made to plaintiff and to prevent the harm that could follow from breaking that promise,” Ortega wrote for the court’s three-judge panel.
     The judge held that the motion to strike should have been granted because the Mullens did not show a likelihood of success on the three claims.

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