Monday, November 11, 2013

Desnick v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc. case brief

Desnick v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc. case brief summary
44 F.3d 1345 (7th Cir. 1995)

Plaintiff ophthalmic clinic and ophthalmologists challenged the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, which dismissed their suit against defendant television network, producer, and star reporter, in which plaintiffs claimed defamation, trespass, and other torts arising out of a critical news program. The district court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim.


Defendant television network, producer, and star reporter produced a program on Medicare fraud involving the elderly and unnecessary cataract surgeries. The program featured plaintiff ophthalmic clinic and ophthalmologists. Plaintiffs were unaware that the segment would include undercover surveillance by test patients. Plaintiffs claimed that their defamation charge should not have been dismissed because the program accused plaintiff ophthalmologists of tampering with equipment to get positive diagnoses for cataracts, thereby damaging their professional reputation.


  • The court agreed with plaintiffs that undiscovered facts might prove that defendants made a false accusation and remanded for further development. 
  • However, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's claim in trespass. 
  • Although defendants' test patients gained entry into plaintiffs' premises by misrepresentation, the entry was not invasive and did not interfere with the ownership or possession of land. 
  • No personal facts concerning plaintiff ophthalmologists were revealed. 
  • The court reasoned that tabloid style investigative journalism served an important part of the market.\
The court reversed the dismissal of plaintiff ophthalmic clinic and ophthalmologists' claim in defamation, holding that it was dismissed prematurely without full development of the facts. The court otherwise affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' claim in trespass because defendant television network, producer, and star reporter did not invade any of the specific interests that the tort of trespass sought to protect.

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