John O'Brien Mar. 11, 2015, 2:31pm


PHILADELPHIA – The New York Daily News is claiming more than $75,000 is at stake in a libel lawsuit brought by a Philadelphia firefighter whose picture was used in the publication’s article about an alleged sex scandal.

The argument is a standard one for defendants that remove lawsuits filed in state courts to federal courts, which is what the Daily News did with Francis Cheney’s lawsuit on March 9.

Cheney sued the Daily News on Feb. 11 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The $75,000 figure is a threshold used for federal jurisdiction.

“With respect to compensatory damages, Plaintiff alleges that the challenged news reports have caused ‘great impact including strain on his family, his relationship with his family, friends and co-workers’ and have ‘significantly damaged plaintiff’s prospects to retain his position and/or advance in his employment, as well as causing Plaintiff ‘to suffer extreme emotional disturbance,’” the removal notice says.

“In addition, Plaintiff alleges that he is entitled to punitive damages for each of his claims. Based on the nature of the causes of action and the allegations of compensatory and punitive damages contained in the complaint, Plaintiff seeks… in excess of $75,000 in damages…”

Cheney made claims for invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the complaint, the story, titled “Heated Sex Scandal Surrounds Philadelphia Fire Department: ‘It’s Bad Stuff,’” featured below the headline and above the article an image of Cheney dressed in uniform and captioned by name.

The article reported allegations that members of the Philadelphia Fire Department engaged in sexual activity with a paramedic and that charges may be filed.

A follow-up story published the next day described the alleged incidents in more detail and involved accusations of sexual abuse and degradation of a non-consenting city employee, including allegations that the paramedic was “naked and barking like a dog, being paraded around in what appeared to be a Philly fire station on a leash.”

Cheney argues that use of his photo in the first article falsely implicated him as a participant in the alleged behavior and has placed him in a bad light with his friends, family and colleagues.

The claim says that the photo used was taken during a 9/11 ceremony and had no connection to the headline or story concerning the sex scandal. It has since been replaced with the image of a fire department badge.

However, the article with the photo has been copied and re-published on other websites, the complaint says, and there has been no retraction from the New York Daily News or attempt to have the image removed from third party sites.

Cheney says he has been flooded with messages concerning the statements and his reputation as a decorated firefighter has been maliciously damaged by the newspaper.

“As a result of such false publication,” the complaint says, “[Cheney], a decorated firefighter and committed public servant has been unfairly brought into scandal and reproach, and has been held up to odium, scorn and contempt.”

The plaintiff is represented by Gonen Haklay and James Goslee of Cohen, Placitella & Roth in Philadelphia.

The removal notice also argues there is a diversity of citizenship between the parties, as the Daily News is organized under the laws of Delaware and has a principal place of business in New York.

The Daily News is represented by Michael Berry and Elizabeth Seidlin-Bernstein of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Philadelphia.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach editor John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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