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Clark v. E! Entertainment Television, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 26, 2018

COREY D. CLARK, Plaintiff,




         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 128). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (Doc. No. 151), and Defendant has replied. (Doc. No. 158). For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff Corey Clark, a former contestant on American Idol, filed this diversity action for libel and false light invasion of privacy against Defendant E! Entertainment Television, LLC, and Fox Broadcasting Company based on E!'s January 27, 2012 airing of a program titled “E! True Hollywood Story: Paula Abdul” (the Program).[1] Specifically, Plaintiff alleges in his false light claim that the Program conveys the message that “Clark did not have any meaningful relationship with Abdul and that Clark was dishonest when he disclosed the nature of the relationship on ABC News.” (Doc. No. 17 at ¶ 314). Both Defendant and Fox filed motions to dismiss, and on October 10, 2014, the Court granted Fox's motion in full and granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Clark's defamation claims. (Doc. No. 101). Thus, only a claim of false light invasion of privacy against E! Entertainment remains.

         Plaintiff competed on Season Two of American Idol, which aired in 2003.[2] (Deposition I of Corey Clark (“Clark Dep. I”) at 54:23-55:15). Paula Abdul appeared on the show as one of the three judges. (Doc. No. 153 at 4). During the 2003 season, Plaintiff was disqualified following the publication of an article on concerning his arrest in Topeka, Kansas on October 12, 2002. (Doc. No. 17 at 36). Sometime after Plaintiff's ouster from the contest, he publicly proclaimed that Ms. Abdul had been his mentor on the show, that the two had become romantically involved, and that he had an affair with Ms. Abdul while still a contestant on American Idol. (Doc. No. 100 at 7).

         In 2005, while Plaintiff was working on an album release and a book regarding his experience on American Idol, (Doc. No. 153 at 5), the Globe and the New York Post reported on Clark's allegation that he had an affair with Ms. Abdul in 2003 while a participant on American Idol. (Clark Dep. I at 138:18 - 139:7). Many other publications and news outlets reported on Plaintiff's allegations, and ABC's Primetime devoted an episode to American Idol and Plaintiff's allegations of his affair. (Doc. No. 153 at 6). Plaintiff's allegations were also the subject of a sketch on NBC's Saturday Night Live in which Ms. Abdul appeared. SNL made fun of Plaintiff as being an opportunist, and Plaintiff testified that he thought the sketch was funny, was not offensive, and indicated that he had “arrived.” (Id.). Clark agrees that in 2005, the notion of him being an opportunist who was looking for his fifteen minutes of fame was widely reported in the media. (Doc. No. 153 at 6).

         Ms. Abdul's E! True Hollywood Story

         The television series E! True Hollywood Story (“E! THS”) is a documentary series that focuses on celebrities, movies, television programs, and public figures. (Doc. No. 153 at 2). In 2005, E! THS updated the Program that focused on Ms. Abdul's life and career to include the public controversy created by Plaintiff's allegations; that episode was broadcast again, with the last airing on or about January 27, 2012. (Doc. No. 100 at 8). As summarized previously by the Court in its October 10, 2014 order, the Program described Plaintiff's participation on American Idol, his ascension to becoming a finalist, and his disqualification after report. (Id. at 8-9). The program included an interview with an American Idol producer who explained that Plaintiff was disqualified from the show because he did not disclose on a background questionnaire that he had been arrested. (Id. at 9). The Program stated that Plaintiff was arrested, was later cleared of the charges, and that Plaintiff did not disclose the arrest on the questionnaire because he was cleared of the charges. (Id.).

         The Program also recounted Plaintiff's later claims that he had an affair with Ms. Abdul. (Id.). A voiceover states that Ms. Abdul initially made no public statement, but later claimed Plaintiff's allegations were lies. (Id.). The Program went on to describe media and fan reactions to the story, and reports that an investigation by independent counsel hired by Fox found that Plaintiff's claims regarding the alleged affair were unsubstantiated. (Id.). The Program featured journalist John Quinones of ABC's Primetime speaking at length on camera about the allegations Clark made on Primetime and the fact that ABC stood by its report of Clark's allegations. (Doc. No. 153 at 9). The Program ends the segment discussing Plaintiff's allegations of an affair with a statement by USA Today's Elysa Gardner stating, “At the end of the day maybe only the two of them know what really happened.” (Id. at 11).


         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court views the facts in the light most favorable for the nonmoving party, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Bible Believers v. Wayne Cty., Mich., 805 F.3d 228, 242 (6th Cir. 2015); Wexler v. White's Fine Furniture, Inc., 317 F.3d 564, 570 (6th Cir. 2003). Claims that a fact is, or is not, in genuine dispute must be supported by the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). However, a “mere ‘scintilla of evidence' within the record that militates against the overwhelming weight of contradictory corroboration does not create a genuine issue of fact.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). If a rational trier of fact could not find for the nonmoving party, summary judgment should be granted. Slusher v. Shelbyville Hosp. Corp., 805 F.3d 211, 215 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Miller v. Sanilac Cty., 606 F.3d 240, 247 (6th Cir. 2010)).

         In Lewis v. NewsChannel 5 Network, L.P., 238 S.W.3d 270, 283 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007), the Tennessee Court of Appeals explained that “summary judgments are particularly well-suited for false light and libel claims” because whether the plaintiff is a public figure, and whether he or she has come forward with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was acting with actual malice are questions of law. Thus, where the actual malice standard applies, the “burden is upon plaintiff to show with ‘convincing clarity' the facts which make up the ‘actual malice.'” Id. (quoting Trigg v. Lakeway Publishers, Inc., 720 S.W.2d 69, 75 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1986)).

         III. ...

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