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Damon, et al. v. Moore, et al.

The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s defamation claim against the producers and distributors of the documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11.

The film included a 16-second excerpt of an interview with the plaintiff in which he described wounds he received while serving in the Army Reserves in Iraq and his subsequent treatment using a new pain medication. Although the plaintiff consented to the original interview which appeared on the NBC Nightly News, he did not consent to having the interview included in the film. The plaintiff claimed that the film was defamatory because it portrayed him as supporting the film’s anti-war message even though he supported the war and the Commander-in-Chief.

When analyzing claims for defamation, courts in Massachusetts start by answering the threshold question of whether the communication is reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning. The plaintiff argued that the district court should not have applied the “reasonable person” standard, but should have looked at the effect of the movie on the military community because the plaintiff is a member of the military. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s application of the reasonable person standard and held that a reasonable viewer could not construe the plaintiff’s appearance as supportive of Michael Moore’s anti-war message. “The overall context of the documentary . . . , while understandably upsetting to Damon, does not propel his otherwise benign interview into one reasonably susceptible of defamatory meaning.”