HUSTLER ANNOUNCES FREE SPEECH VICTORY
Beverly Hills, CA – May 1, 2012 – Hustler Magazine and its publisher, Larry Flynt, today achieved another victory in defense of the First Amendment. In a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the court threw out a jury award of punitive damages in a lawsuit brought by Maureen Toffoloni, the mother of Nancy Benoit, the murdered wife of professional wrestler Chris Benoit. The lawsuit alleged that in publishing nude photographs of Ms. Benoit as part of an article about her murder, Hustler violated her right of publicity.
At trial in an Atlanta federal court, the jury awarded Ms. Benoit’s estate approximately $19.6 million in punitive damages for Hustler’s publication of Benoit’s images. The trial judge reduced that amount to the Georgia statutory maximum of $250,000, which the court of appeals decision vacated.
On appeal, Hustler argued that even if the nude photographs were not newsworthy, Flynt and his staff honestly believed that their publication was newsworthy and protected by the First Amendment. As a result, any award of punitive damages was unjustified. In agreeing with Hustler, the 11th Circuit panel found that Ms. Toffoloni had failed to refute the testimony of numerous witnesses establishing that Hustler’s staff honestly believed in the newsworthiness of the images, and that “no reasonable jury could find by clear and convincing evidence that punitive damages were warranted.”