Law

Fifth Court of Appeals Smacks Down José Reyes’ Defamation Suit Against D Magazine

Not sure how we'll recover from Reyes the costs of our appeal, but today is a good day.

Jose Reyes strikes a pose with Anna-Sophia van Zweden (left) and Ana Pettus.
Jose Reyes strikes a pose with Anna-Sophia van Zweden (left) and Ana Pettus.

In the summer of 2013, we published a story in D Magazine about a Dallas Symphony Orchestra volunteer named José Reyes, whom the DSO had fired with a press release. It was an interesting little tale about the part of Dallas society that’s involved with DSO fundraising parties. Reyes didn’t like the story. He sued the magazine for defamation later that year. Our reply, via our attorneys at Haynes and Boone, was: “This suit is a load of nonsense.” I’m paraphrasing. A trial court did, though, partially side with Reyes. We appealed. Yesterday the Fifth Court of Appeals agreed with us, shooting down all of Reyes’ claims against the magazine. You can read the court’s opinion for yourself. If you work in the media, you really ought to; there’s a lot to be learned. Here’s just a taste:

In his pleading, Reyes identified 15 parts of the story that he contended were defamatory. One of those parts was the headline, which in print read “The Talented Mr. Reyes: How a man of meager means and a mysterious past duped Dallas society.” Pretty good little headline, if I do say so myself. (I wrote it.) The court agreed that I am good at my job. Again, paraphrasing. Here’s what the court actually said (the ellipses are merely where I’ve omitted case citations):

Reyes contends the headline’s reference to his means as “meager” is insulting, and he asserts that in fact his means are “just fine with him.” Likewise, Reyes argues the references to his “mysterious past” and to his “duping Dallas society” inaccurately suggest he was hiding some dark secret or that he engaged in deceptive conduct toward those around him in the DSO. D Magazine responds that the elements of the headline are no more than unverifiable opinions.

To determine whether a statement is fact or opinion, we focuses our analysis on the statement’s verifiability and the entire context in which it was made. … Employing that standard, we agree with D Magazine that a reference to meager means is a subjective opinion, given that an income one person views as meager may be substantial to another. … This kind of description cannot be objectively verified because it amounts to a personal judgment that “rests solely in the eye of the beholder.” … Accordingly, the description is not capable of a defamatory meaning.

As to the remainder of the headline—assertions that Reyes had a mysterious past and that he duped Dallas society—we conclude the headline writer was employing rhetorical hyperbole, an exaggeration employed for rhetorical effect. … Viewed in the context of the article as a whole, we see no discussion of Reyes’s “past” or of any effort on Reyes’s part to trick members of the DSO in any fashion. Although the Article appears to chastise Reyes for describing his work in a call center as “marketing,” to move from that characterization to descriptions of mysteries and trickery can only be seen as extravagant exaggeration. And that kind of rhetorical flourish is not actionable as defamation.

I think I’ll add that description to my Twitter bio. The Court of Appeals in the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas has determined that I am an extravagant exaggerator. That’s quite something.

Comments

  • topham

    “we focuses our analysis”?

    • Yes, I know. I considered a [sic] but didn’t want to irritate the court by pointing out its typo.

  • RAB

    The court also describes your writing as “a kind of rhetorical flourish,” which itself is an extravagant exaggeration.

  • DGirl

    It is outrageous that the DSO and D Magazine had to contend with this moron. (opinion, not actionable as defamation). The DSO is already on a tight budget and this wannabe has the gall to try to shake them down for money. The reporter involved in this case is among the best reporters I’ve ever worked with and is damn sure she will get facts straight and tell the story accurately. Pretty crappy of Reyes to drag her through the mud. I feel sorry for Jose Reyes, really, but this is just not the way to handle embarrassment. Glad D Magazine and DSO prevailed but sorry you are stuck with a bunch of legal bills.

    • Actually, the DSO isn’t done with Reyes. You’ll have to read the end of the opinion to see exactly what still has to be decided.

  • Thanks for your comment, Paul. But you’re a little off. The Texas Supreme Court merely ruled against our pre-discovery motion to dismiss the case. You can read for yourself here:

    http://law.justia.com/cases/texas/supreme-court/2017/15-0790.html

  • Jim Schutze

    Tried to read whole opinion. Tired from JWP trial. Got as far as finding out I am OK with anything that is, “unflattering, abusive, annoying, irksome, or embarrassing, or that only hurts the plaintiff’s feelings.” What else is there to write?