Court Ends Actor’s Lawsuit Against Playgirl on Free Speech Grounds

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Source: Playgirl, Inc.

By: Company Press Release

(LOS ANGELES, CA) — In a victory for the press and the First Amendment, a Los Angeles federal district court entered summary judgment in favor of Playgirl, Inc. on Friday in a lawsuit brought by actor Jose Solano, Jr. The Honorable Dickran Tevrizian presided over the matter.

Solano, who played lifeguard “Manny Gutierrez” on the immensely popular television phenomenon “Baywatch” from 1996 to 1999, claimed that Playgirl put him in a false light, misappropriated his name and image, and embarrassed him when it used a photograph of him purchased from a photo stock house on the cover of its January 1999 issue to highlight an article inside the magazine about sexy young television stars. Although the magazine typically contains nude photographs of men, none of the 10 actors profiled in the article featuring Solano was shown nude.

Judge Tevrizian first found that Solano was a public figure for First Amendment purposes, not only because he was a series regular on “Baywatch,” which reaches 140 countries and is broadcast in 32 languages to more than 1.6 billion people (Solano himself stated, “It blows my mind how many people watch that show.”), but also because, due to his “Baywatch” notoriety, he regularly participated in charity events as a “celebrity participant” and had appeared on numerous other national television shows, in films, in and on the cover of national entertainment, sports, and fashion-related magazines, and in Wrigley’s gum and Pepsi commercials. The court also noted that Solano’s public figure status had given him the opportunity to refute on national television and in reports in major newspapers and national media any belief that he had appeared nude in Playgirl. As a public figure, the court found that Solano had relinquished a part of his right to privacy and had become a legitimate subject of public interest, and the press had the right to report on his accomplishments and lifestyle.

Judge Tevrizian found that Playgirl’s “truthful, newsworthy use” of photographs of Solano and an article about him was a complete defense to Solano’s misappropriation of publicity claims, and that Playgirl’s use of headlines and his photo on the cover of the magazine did not invade his privacy by placing him in a false light. The court stated, “While (Solano) wishes otherwise, once he became part of an extremely popular television series and participated in the events and opportunities associated with it, he relinquished a certain amount of control over the publication of events of his life.” The judge further found that Solano’s “dislike of the manner in which he is portrayed or the magazine in which his picture is reproduced” provided no basis for recovery: “To find otherwise, would lead to self-censorship and chill the exercise of the freedom of speech, both of which are forbidden results under the First Amendment.”

As part of the judgment, Solano was ordered to pay a portion of Playgirl’s attorneys’ fees.

Playgirl was represented by Kent R. Raygor of the Los Angeles-based law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. Raygor is the Chair of Sheppard Mullin’s Intellectual Property & Technology Department, and practices extensively in the area of First Amendment, privacy, and libel law. In the First Amendment area, he has represented Playgirl and other magazines in cases involving actors Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston and others; CNET News.com against Microsoft; and Cineplex Odeon Corporation, director Martin Scorcese and Universal/MCA Pictures against attempts to censor the film, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Raygor can be reached for comment at (213) 617-4251.

Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP is the eleventh-largest law firm in California with more than 300 attorneys in four offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County. Sheppard Mullin is a full-service firm specializing in litigation and antitrust, intellectual property, corporate and securities, banking and finance, labor and employment, tax and estate planning, and real estate.