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5th Circuit throws out libel claim against La. newspaper

By The Associated Press
04.16.09

NEW ORLEANS — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled in favor of the Lake Charles American Press in a defamation case filed by a jet fuel provider.

Mark Henry, owner of Chennault Jet Center, sued the newspaper for defamation in Texas state court, saying articles about a government investigation of Chennault's alleged sale of noncompliant fuel to military aircraft contained several defamatory statements.

The newspaper had the case moved to federal court.

According to the ruling, the government notified Henry in February 2005 of the investigation.

The government terminated Chennault's contract to refuel military aircraft in April 2005.

From May 2005 to January 2006, the American Press published a series of articles describing the investigation of Chennault Jet Center's fueling practices.

The court said that Henry claimed his attorney, David Anderson of Houston, contacted the American Press to provide information that the stories were false.

Because the newspaper had notice of the stories' falsity but continued to publish them, the lower court found that Henry had satisfied his burden to prove his claim.

The unanimous three-judge 5th Circuit panel, however, agreed with the American Press that there was no indication that the newspaper had not followed up on the information Anderson provided. It then reversed the earlier ruling and dismissed the complaint.

The 5th Circuit panel ruled in Henry v. Lake Charles American Press that "even assuming the stories were false," Anderson had not shown the newspaper acted unreasonably in investigating and publishing the stories.

"We are pleased," said Bobby Dower, managing editor for the American Press. "The court ruled the way we saw the issue all along."

Anderson did not return calls seeking comment in time for this story.


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