Birmingham BroadcastingAnnotate this Case
In 1992, Leslie Hill pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of distributing obscene material for renting adult videos at a video-rental store he owned. In November 2013, Hill was arrested in Homewood on a misdemeanor charge of harassing communications. Pursuant to that arrest, the Sheriff's Department determined that, based on Hill's 1992 convictions, he was required to register as a sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act ("SORNA"). Hill refused to do so on the ground that the 1992 convictions did not qualify as sex offenses under SORNA. The Sheriff's Department collaborated with WVTM-TV on a weekly televised news segment entitled "To Catch a Predator;" the Department would “select somebody that we were either having trouble finding or somebody that had refused to come register or whatever the case may be. . . .And we would type up a script for the Sheriff to read, and then we would take it over to his office and he would read it basically in front of one of the TV cameras in his office to run on TV." Hill was featured on the December 6, 2013, segment of "To Catch a Predator." After the December 6 broadcast, Hill, through his attorney, contacted the district attorney’s office expressing his opinion that his 1992 convictions did not constitute a sex offense under SORNA. A deputy district attorney agreed and requested that the warrants be recalled. On December 10, 2013, both warrants issued against Hill were recalled. Neither Hill nor his attorney contacted WVTM after the December 6 broadcast to inform it that the warrants against Hill had been recalled. On a December 13 airing of the program, a news anchor stated the warrants against Hill had been recalled. Nevertheless, Hill sued Sheriff Hale, a deputy and lieutenant, and WVTM, alleging state-law claims of defamation, false light, negligent training and supervision, and the tort of outrage against all defendants. In appeal no. 1180343, Birmingham Broadcasting (WVTM-TV) appealed a $250,000 judgment entered on a defamation verdict against it. In appeal no. 1180370, Hill appealed the dismissal of all the claims Hill asserted against three members of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department ("the Sheriff's Department") on the basis of state immunity. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in appeal no. 1180343 and rendered judgment in favor of WVTM, and affirmed judgment in appeal no. 1180370.