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Walko v. Kean College of New Jersey

Decided: July 8, 1988.

ANN WALKO AND MICHAEL WALKO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KEAN COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY, STUDENT ORGANIZATION OF KEAN COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, COUNCIL FOR PART-TIME STUDENTS, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, NANETTE STREHL, HEIDI ERRINGTON, LORI RAPUANO, MINA BOTASH, STEVE DOWLING, DAN KACHOOGIAN, GARY BLACK, TOM O'DONNELL, AND PATRICK IPPOLITO, DEFENDANTS



Wecker, J.s.c.

Wecker

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff's Complaint centers around a publication of the Kean College student newspaper, the Independent. More specifically, the claims arise out of a "spoof" edition, entitled the Incredible, which was published as pages seven to thirteen of the April 25, 1985 newspaper. The thirteenth page is composed entirely of phony "ads" including the one at issue:

Whoreline Have a problem? Want to Rap? Call Whoreline at 687-SEXY ANYTIME for good phone sex Featuring: Janice Murray Ann Walko Steve Guttman Matt Lynch

There was at the time a genuine ad that regularly appeared in the Independent to publicize the student-run telephone "Hotline." That ad appeared at page 18 of the April 25, 1985 edition of the Independent: #145

Communication-Help Center

Have a problem? Want to rap? Call Hotline. 289-2101, 527-2360, 527-2330, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Walk-in Peer Counseling, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Frustrated? Child problems? Call Kean College Parent Line, 351-5877, Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday-Sunday 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Do you have a drinking problem, or have a friend who has a drinking problem? Call the Kean College Hotline for the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on campus. Call 289-2100, Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The entire edition of the Incredible has been examined, and the context of the ad is a determinative factor in this court's ruling granting summary judgment to all defendants*fn1 on all counts. What is at stake here is the balance to be struck between the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the

press, and the individual's interest in reputation, peace of mind, and freedom from emotional distress. On these facts, freedom of the press outweighs the individual's interest.

The April 25, 1985 edition of the Independent included the following items related to the real "Hotline:"

Page One Headline article regarding threatened

loss of funding for full-time director.

The Article continues on pages three

and six.

Page Four Headline Editorial regarding the Hot-

line loss of funding.

Pages Four and Five Letters to the Editor regarding loss of

funding.

DEFAMATION

A parody or spoof that no reasonable person would read as a factual statement, or as anything other than a joke -- albeit a bad joke -- cannot be actionable as a defamation. See, e.g., Pring v. Penthouse International, Ltd., 695 F.2d 438 (10th Cir.1982); but see Miss America Pageant, Inc. v. Penthouse International, Ltd., 524 F. Supp. 1280 (D.N.J.1981) (same alleged parody article held not absolutely privileged). Even where a word is used that usually denotes criminal activity, it is constitutionally protected when no reasonable reader would perceive it as anything but "rhetorical hyperbole." Greenbelt Publishing ...


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