ESPN Claims Tweet was Lawful in Jason Pierre-Paul’s Civil Suit
On Thursday April 7, 2016, ESPN told a Florida federal court that it cannot be held liable for a tweet sent out by reporter Adam Schefter in 2015, where images of New York Giants defensive star Jason Pierre-Paul’s medical records were uploaded to the internet. The case stems from an incident in the summer of 2015, where Schefter, one of ESPN’s most popular NFL insiders, was covering the story of Pierre-Paul’s July 4th fireworks accident, in which he blew off part of his right hand. Schefter, who has been named individually as a defendant in the civil case, purportedly tweeted the photos in question as a means to back up reports of his declaring JPP had successfully undergone surgery to amputate his right index finger prior to the start of the 2015 NFL season.
In its motion to dismiss filed Thursday, ESPN refutes Pierre-Paul’s claims that the sports media giant infringed, through Schefter’s reporting, on his privacy rights. According to its dismissal motion, ESPN argues that while JPP concedes the fact that Schefter reporting on the details of the surgery was lawful, he believes sending out a corroborating photo to prove his report somehow made the whole issue illegal. To be fair, under Florida law, it is indeed unlawful for a private citizen’s medical records to be disclosed without that patient’s consent – the exact statute JPP claims ESPN violated and under which he is seeking recourse. In response, ESPN claims that the statute does not apply to the general public but rather was intended only to discourage doctors and medical staff from inappropriately revealing a patient’s medical history. Without a private right of action, it claims, Pierre-Paul’s suit fails on its face.
Alternatively, ESPN argues that even if the statute could be read as broadly as possible, JPP would still not have a sufficient invasion of privacy claim because Schefter’s reporting would be covered under the First Amendment, which acts as a failsafe to allow for truthful speech regarding matters of public concern to be released without legal backlash. An injury update for one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players of the last decade, particularly one following the unusual circumstances surrounding an injury of this caliber, could easily be argued as a matter of public concern. Recall, however, that a similar argument was brought in the Hulk Hogan/Gawker sex tape scandal suit, where a Florida jury just last month awarded the Hulkster $140 million in economic and putative damages, in part rejecting an analogous First Amendment argument.
Other issues of note in this case include: Pierre-Paul originally filed the suit in Florida state court in February, but it was later removed to federal court in March following a determination of diversity jurisdiction between the parties; and according to ESPN, although individually named in the suit, Schefter has not been appropriately attached as a defendant because he has yet to be properly served in the matter.