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Blair v. Inside Edition Prods.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 14, 2014

MISSIONARY-TRACEY ELAINE BLAIR, Plaintiff,
v.
INSIDE EDITION PRODUCTIONS, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Missionary Tracey Elaine Blair, Plaintiff, Pro se, Detroit, MI.

For Inside Edition Productions, A Domestic Business Corporation for Profit, Defendant: Katherine Mary Bolger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, New York, NY.

OPINION

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OPINION AND ORDER

Ronnie Abrams, United States District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Tracey Elaine Blair brings this defamation action against Defendant Inside Edition, Inc., alleging that a series of broadcasts on Inside Edition's televised news program injured her reputation by publicizing numerous false statements concerning her occupancy of the house of her former landlord, Heidi Peterson, while Peterson was out of the country. Inside Edition moves for summary judgment on the ground that all of the statements at issue are substantially true. The

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Court grants the motion, as no rational jury could find by clear and convincing evidence that any of the statements is false.[1]

BACKGROUND [2]

Blair is a self-proclaimed politician and " public figure" who advocates for affordable housing in Detroit and, in particular, the reclamation of abandoned homes. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 5; Blair Dep. 41:13-15; Def. Ex. 1 ¶ ¶ IV, V.) She has run for a number of offices as a write-in candidate, including mayor of Detroit, state senator, governor of Michigan, and president of the United States. (Def. 56.1 ¶ 4.) In addition, she has used her adverse possession of vacant residential properties as the basis for at least four quiet title actions. (Id. ¶ 6.)

From October 2010 through February 2011, Blair rented a room in Peterson's home pursuant to a month-to-month lease. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 9-10.) Peterson served Blair with a notice to quit on February 14, 2011, claiming that the house had to be vacated because the boiler was broken. (Id. ¶ 11.) After Blair moved out, Peterson changed the locks and left the country. (Id. ¶ ¶ 12-13.) Blair paid no further rent and had no contact with Peterson while she was abroad. (Id. ¶ ¶ 12, 14.) After moving out of Peterson's home, she resided with her mother and sister and in another house that she purchased for $3,000. (Blair Dep. 10:22-12:10, 154:14-57:21.)

In April or May of 2012, Blair was driving by Peterson's house and decided to attempt to retrieve certain possessions that she had left there. (Id. at 45:3-25.) She discovered that the door was broken and that the neighbors had not seen Peterson recently. (Id. at 46:3-7.) Over the next few months, Blair installed a new lock on the front door, scraped and repainted the walls, fixed the plumbing, and replaced the refrigerator and stove, all without Peterson's permission. (Id. at 75:6-10, 78:2-79:2, 93:8-99:4, 149:4-20.)

On June 1, 2012, Blair filed a quiet title action for possession of the property, naming Peterson as the defendant. (Def. 56.1 ¶ ¶ 21-22.) Later that month, she filed a complaint to encumber the property with a construction lien for the repairs that she had made. (Id. ¶ 24.) By July, she began to live there, alternating between Peterson's house and her other two residences. (Blair Dep. 62:21-63:20.) She obtained a default judgment against Peterson in the amount of $8,500 on October 11, 2012. (Def 56.1 ¶ ¶ 25-26.)

Blair returned to the house on October 8 or 9, 2012 to discover Peterson on the porch with police officers. (Id. ¶ ¶ 30-31.)[3] The police left after Blair showed them her construction lien pleadings. (Id. ¶ ¶ 32-33.) Detroit's local Fox Television Stations affiliate,

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Fox 2, interviewed Blair and Peterson regarding the incident and broadcast a report on October 9, 2012. (Id. ¶ ¶ 40-43.) After the broadcast, several news outlets sought interviews and reported on the dispute. (Id. ¶ ¶ 44-45.)

Inside Edition, the televised newsmagazine of Inside Edition, Inc., aired four segments about the dispute on October 11, 12, 13, and 19, 2012. (Id. ¶ ¶ 1, 46-50.) A voiceover in the first broadcast introduces the situation as follows: " You've never seen an odd couple like this. They're not roommates, but they live in the same house. And Heidi Peterson says she wants her outta there. She says Tracey Blair is a squatter and has no right to be there. But Tracey refuses to move." (Def. Ex. A at 1:33-47.) Blair and Peterson are shown arguing about the appliances that Blair removed or replaced, and Peterson says, " You can't just do things with people's items that don't belong to you." (Id. at 2:00-16, 2:30-35.) The voiceover explains that, " for now, Tracey and Heidi and her little daughter will have to co-exist under the same roof, possibly for many months to come, until this bizarre situation is worked out," and Peterson is shown saying, " I want to resolve this in court." (Id. at 2:50-3:01.) The broadcast concludes with the anchor's explanation of eviction law: " Under the law, a homeowner cannot remove a squatter by force, so Heidi actually has to file a civil suit in court, prove it's her property, and then evict the alleged squatter. It is a process that could take the better part of a year." (Id. at 3:02-15.)

The second broadcast is a viewer reaction segment. (Def. 56.1 ΒΆ 47.) The anchor quotes comments from viewers and states that " most viewers are outraged that Detroit homeowner Heidi Peterson must now go to court to remove Tracey ...


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