Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Judge Dismisses Libel Suit Involving ProPublica Article

The ruling cited the article’s heavy reliance on government reports that found numerous problems at nursing home company SentosaCare.

by Ian MacDougall

A judge in Brooklyn has thrown out a libel lawsuit against two reporters brought by the subjects of a 2015 ProPublica investigation that raised serious concerns about lax state oversight of nursing home ownership in New York.

Kings County Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten held that the article was not libelous because it was a “fair and true report” of actions taken by state and federal agencies. New York law generally shields accurate accounts of official government actions from claims of libel (which refers to false statements that harm a person’s reputation). That’s to insulate government watchdog reporting from the chilling effect of litigation.

Wooten decided the case last month, but the opinion was published electronically on Monday.

The defendants in the suit, Jennifer Lehman and Allegra Abramo, reported the story for ProPublica on a freelance basis. ProPublica was not sued, but defended the reporters and bore the financial cost of the litigation. (This is the fourth time ProPublica has been sued for libel. All of the claims were dismissed before trial or dropped.)

The ProPublica article at the heart of the lawsuit was entitled “How N.Y.’s Biggest For-Profit Nursing Home Flourishes Despite a Record of Patient Harm.” It questioned the adequacy of the process by which New York regulators vet nursing home owners, focusing on how regulators repeatedly greenlighted new SentosaCare ownership stakes in nursing homes despite a history of fines and violations at homes affiliated with the company.

SentosaCare — along with two company principals and five affiliated nursing homes — filed the lawsuit in March 2016, after company officials became aware that Lehman and Abramo had begun work on a possible follow-up article.

Click here for the full article.

Source: ProPublica

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