Financial Fiduciaries, LLC v. Gannett Co., Inc., No. 21-2016 (7th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
A Wisconsin newspaper owned by Gannett published an article about Batterman and his business, Financial Fiduciaries, describing a judicial proceeding in which several trust beneficiaries successfully removed Batterman as de facto trustee of a $3 million fund. The court concluded that Batterman violated his fiduciary duties. Although the court did not rule on whether Batterman committed criminal acts, it ordered him to pay the beneficiaries’ litigation expenses because his conduct “amounted to something of bad faith, fraud or deliberate dishonesty.” Batterman sent a retraction letter to the newspaper. Weeks later, the newspaper revised the article but did not remove it. Batterman then sued Gannett for defamation. The district court entered judgment for Gannett, finding that the allegedly defamatory statements were substantially true and protected by Wisconsin’s judicial-proceedings privilege, which protects publishers that report court activity.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court correctly ruled that the only plausible defamation claim in Batterman’s complaint pertained to the implication that he committed elder abuse. The other defamatory statements were substantially true and privileged. Mishandling a deceased person’s estate may not always constitute elder abuse, but a reasonable jury could not conclude that observing the relationship between Batterman’s conduct and elder abuse constituted a false statement.