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Court revives libel suit over magazine story

N.H. woman cites photo in sex article

A federal appeals court yesterday reinstated a New Hampshire woman's lawsuit alleging a magazine libeled her by running a photo of her and others with an article headlined, ''The Mating Habits of the Suburban High School Teenager."

The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed District Judge F. Dennis Saylor's March 2005 dismissal of Stacey Stanton's lawsuit against Metro Corp., publisher of Boston magazine.

Saylor had found that Stanton failed to demonstrate that the photo's publication in the May 2003 issue of the magazine could be considered defamatory under Massachusetts law.

But the three-judge panel ordered the lower court to reconsider the Manchester woman's complaint.

The appeals court ruled that Stanton's allegations ''sufficiently state a defamation claim based on the theory that Metro negligently used Stanton's photograph to illustrate a story describing teenagers as sexually promiscuous without realizing that the publication might therefore be reasonably understood to mean that she was sexually promiscuous."

Robert Bertsche, a lawyer representing Philadelphia-based Metro, said he was considering asking the full appeals court to review the decision.

''We would argue we never made any statement that could be proved to be false," Bertsche said.

The article -- which suggested area teens had become more sexually promiscuous over the previous decade -- was illustrated with a photograph showing Stanton and four others at a high school dance. They were not identified.

Accompanying the article was a note saying the story's photos were from a photojournalist's ''award-winning five-year project on teen sexuality."

The note included a disclaimer that ''the individuals pictured are unrelated to the people or events described in this story."

In her lawsuit, Stanton alleged she did not participate in any teen sexuality project and that the photo and its juxtaposition with the article invaded her privacy by implying that she took part in the sexual activities.

The magazine's publisher argued the article drew no literal connection between the teens in the photo and the story subject.

The appeals court found that Metro failed to prove there were no facts supporting Stanton's claim.

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