Court Rules Against Hustler in Benoit Case

ATLANTA —A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Hustler magazine did not have the right to publish nude photos of the late Nancy Benoit.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a highly-publicized death does not give the media the right to publish any images they desire — even if its not directly linked to the event.

The three-judge panel ruled that while Benoit’s death may be newsworthy, the decades-old photographs were not.

Benoit is a former professional wrestling personality who was killed by her husband, wrestler Chris Benoit, in late June 2007. Chris Benoit also killed the couple's 7-year-old son at the family’s Fayetetteville, Ga., home before taking his own life.

“These private, nude photographs were not incident to a newsworthy article,” Judge Charles Wilson wrote in his opinion,” rather, the brief biography was incident to the photographs. Additionally, these photographs were neither related in time nor concept to the current incident of public interest. We hold that these photographs do not qualify for the newsworthiness exception to the right of publicity.”

Maureen Toffoloni, Nancy Benoit’s mother and the administrator of her estate, had sought punitive damages from Hustler after it published the photos Mark Samansky took of her daughter in 1983 in its March 2008 issue.

The lawsuit, which claims that Benoit had asked the photographer to destroy the images immediately after they were shot, was dismissed in October when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash ruled that Samansky did not violate the privacy of Benoit and that Hustler had the right to publish the photos partly because her death was a “legitimate matter of public interest and concern.”

The decision sends the lawsuit back to the lower court for consideration.