A Massachusetts woman, Caroline Bilodeau-Allen, and her son, Christopher Allen, are suing the National Enquirer for defamation after the tabloid reported in 2006 that Christopher is really the son of Mass. Sen. Ted Kennedy. The Enquirer is standing by its sources in what could be a new test of the so-called New York Times v. Sullivan standard.
The story reported that Christopher was “unwanted” and that Bilodeau-Allen’s apartment was “ransacked and evidence of their relationship removed.” It further reports that she “feared for her life and warned that she could end up like Mary Jo Kopechne.”
The common law has long recognized per se categories of defamation where damages are presumed and special damages need not be proven. These include: (1) disparaging a person’s professional character or standing; (2) alleging a person is unchaste; (3) alleging that a person has committed a criminal act or act of moral turpitude; (4) alleging a person has a sexual or loathsome disease; and (5) attacking a person’s business or professional reputation. The second and third categories could be potentially relevant here. What is interesting is that, while Kennedy is not a party, Bilodeau-Allen will still have shoulder the higher burden in proving defamation against a public figure or public official.In the 1964 case, New York Times v Sullivan, the Supreme Court required that a public official show that there was actual malice in a false statement. This “constitutional standard” requires a showing of either knowing falsity of the statement or reckless disregard of its falsity. Obviously, truth still remains a defense in all defamation cases.
Bilodeau-Allen and her son would clearly not be public figures in their own rights. However, it is possible that they could be treated (particularly the mother) as an “involuntary public figure” — someone who did not invite publicity but had it thrust upon them. They can also be classified as “limited public figures” for the purposes of this controversy. In either case, they would fall under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard.
For the most recent story, click here
For the original story at issue in the lawsuit, click here
For a copy of the complaint, click here