A judge has dismissed a libel lawsuit against The State Journal filed by the owner of Miguel’s Restaurant on the grounds the newspaper’s stories about an incident there were accurate and any claims of harm by them were baseless.
In dismissing the lawsuit filed by Miguel Nunez, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Winegate said that the newspaper’s arguments against a libel action “have shown that it would be impossible” for Miguel to come up with evidence at a trial that would be in his favor.
“As such,” Wingate ruled in a decision handed down Monday, “summary judgment is in order.”
Nunez, owner of the Versailles Road restaurant, sued The State Journal in March over two articles concerning an incident in January of 2011 that he says libeled him. The articles were part of the lawsuit filed locally.
The first article by Charlie Pearl was published on Jan. 10, 2011. It said the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office was investigating an alleged sexual assault at the Fairfield Inn & Suites near Miguel’s Restaurant, which had been reported earlier.
“A 20-year-old female reported she had been sexually assaulted by an acquaintance,” Chief Deputy Sheriff Ron Wyatt was quoted as saying, and a search warrant for surveillance video had been served at Miguel’s at 1530 Versailles Road.
A subsequent story on Sunday, March 6, 2011, said a rape allegation by the woman against a Frankfort restaurant owner was unsubstantiated. The headline on that article said, “Sheriff says Miguel’s rape claim baseless.” The information in the story was attributed to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and said there would be no charges against Nunez.
Officers looked at surveillance video from the restaurant bar, and it showed the woman and Nunez having sex, “but it doesn’t appear that she is being raped,” the story said, quoting a sheriff’s document.
The story said the sheriff’s office reviewed surveillance video from the Fairfield Inn, which showed the woman, her boyfriend and Nunez entering together, and that she “did not seem in fear of Mr. Nunez and video showed them entering the room together as well.”
“We advised (her) that we recovered the surveillance video from the bar and asked her if she would like to review it, but it appeared there was no rape,” the story said. “(She) told us the incident at the bar and the hotel were different, but could not tell us why.”
The story said a sheriff’s report showed that Nunez told her he had rented a room at the nearby Fairfield Inn for her and her boyfriend because the weather was bad and they lived out of town.
The story said police records reported that Nunez went to the hotel room with them and after the intoxicated boyfriend passed out in the one bed, the woman said Nunez raped her. Nunez told sheriff deputies he had sex with the woman twice in the hotel room, but it was consensual, the story said.
Nunez claimed in the lawsuit, filed by attorney Jack Flynn, that statements in the articles “would cause a reasonable person seeing the bold-faced headlines and use of the word ‘rape’ to believe that the plaintiff rapes patrons at his restaurant.”
It says the articles were libelous and published with malice and reckless disregard of the truth. It asked for an unspecified amount of damages.
Wingate, however, said in his dismissal that the March 6 article “accurately reported the conclusion of the Sherriff’s investigation.” Wingate also said that nothing in the newspaper story was defamatory.
“The article truthfully states that the rape allegations against a Frankfort restaurant owner were unsubstantiated, and the title states that the claim of rape was baseless. In short, the headlines make the opposite statement of what (Nunez) contends, and nothing in (his) pleadings illuminate any potential falsehoods or inaccuracies in the article.”