Heard: October 1, 2019. 
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on January
21, 2014. The case was heard by Douglas H. Wilkins, J., on a
motion for summary judgment.
review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court
granted leave to obtain further appellate review.
Butcher, pro se.
C. Kravitz, Deputy State Solicitor (Denise Barton also
present) for Cady Vishniac.
Zachary C. Kleinsasser, for Gatehouse Media, LLC, &
others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
March of 2013, the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass)
police department received a report that an unknown man was
engaging in suspicious activity near the UMass campus. The
police included an account of this report, and their attempts
to find the unknown man, in their daily public police log
(blotter). At the time this activity was reported, defendant
Cady Vishniac was a UMass student and the news editor of the
school newspaper, Mass. Media. Mass. Media republished the
blotter entries for that week, including the report of the
unknown man's allegedly suspicious activities. After the
UMass police were unable to locate the man, a UMass police
officer sent a photograph to Mass. Media asking for help in
identifying him. Mass. Media republished a version of the
report, accompanied by the photograph. Soon after the
photograph was released, the previously unknown man was
identified as the plaintiff.
to the plaintiff, these reports, which circulated for over
one week without his knowledge, were utterly false. Indeed,
he asserts that he is a victim twice over: first, of an
assault by a bus driver, and, thereafter, by the publication
of slanderous stories that suggested he was a sexual
plaintiff commenced this action against UMass and a number of
individually named defendants, largely UMass employees or
former employees, for their role in spreading the purportedly
false reports about him. The decisive question in this case
is whether a newspaper can be liable for republishing public
police logs and requests for assistance received from a
police department. We conclude that, based on the particular
facts of these publications, the fair report privilege
shielded Vishniac from liability.
"We recite the facts in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff." Ravnikar v. Bogojavlensky,
438 Mass. 627, 628 (2003) . The publications at issue refer
to an alleged incident that occurred on March 13, 2013. At
that time, the plaintiff was employed as a security engineer
with the information technology department at UMass. At
around 10 A.M. that morning, UMass Boston police officers
responded to a report of suspicious activity at the John F.
Kennedy station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation
Authority's Red Line (JFK Station). When police arrived,
they met with a bus driver who informed them that he had
observed a suspicious male taking photographs of women on the
bus. Police then interviewed a second witness, a bus company
employee, who also said that the bus driver had observed a
man taking photographs of people. The employee, who was a bus
starter, indicated that the suspicious male was wearing dark
glasses and did not appear to be a student. The employee got
on the bus and sat next to the individual in an effort to
dissuade him from taking any more photographs.
plaintiff offers a very different account of this incident.
He states that he was on his way to work at UMass when he
decided to take photographs of the buses housed at the JFK
Station. The purpose of those photographs was to document
what he saw as serious safety concerns regarding the bus
company and its drivers. He believed that he had permission to
take these photographs, in part, because the bus company was
engaged in an ongoing union dispute, and the union had
encouraged members to document any problems. The plaintiff
contends that a bus driver saw what he was doing, accused him
of taking photographs of the driver, and proceeded to accost
him. Then, the driver attempted to block the plaintiff from
leaving the bus. The altercation only ended when the
plaintiff left the bus and the driver sped off. That
afternoon, the plaintiff sent an electronic mail message to
the UMass office of public safety, under the pseudonym
"Eric Jones," describing this
encounter. Police replied to the message on March 15,
but received no response.
police included only a report of the bus driver's version
of events in the UMass police blotter. The police blotter for
March 10, 2013, through March 16, 2013, later was republished
by Mass. Media. In that online publication, all of the
week's blotter entries were listed, verbatim, in
chronological order by the date and time that the report had
been made. The report of the JFK Station incident read:
"A suspicious white male in a black jacket took
photographs and video of nearby women, as well as some
buildings on campus. A witness stated that the party did not
appear to be a student and was not wearing a backpack. The
witness snapped a photograph of the suspect and shared that
photograph with Campus Safety. Officers tried to locate the
suspect at JFK/UMass Station, but could not find him."
March 22, 2013, UMass police received photographs from the
bus company that supposedly depicted the man who had been
reported to be taking photographs of women. Officers added
the photographs to their internal incident
administrators became concerned about the activities of the
as-yet unidentified "Eric Jones." At the request of
the UMass police, the photographs supplied by the bus company
were provided to Mass. Media in order to assist police in
identifying the then unknown man. On March 25, 2013, Mass.
Media published an article in their electronic edition under
the title "Have you Seen This Man?" Unlike the
previous publication of the blotter, this article provided an
account only of the JFK Station incident and included the
photograph supplied by the UMass police. It read:
"On the morning of March 13, the man in the photograph
allegedly walked around the UMass Boston campus snapping
pictures of female members of the university community
without their permission. According to the student who
reported him, he did not appear to be a student as he was not
carrying a backpack. If you see him, please call Campus
Safety . . . ."
same article was included in the print version of the Mass.
Media newspaper that ran from March 26, 2013, through April
March 27, 2013, the plaintiff was identified by a coworker as
the man in the photograph. His supervisor brought him to the
UMass police department so security officers could speak with
him. The plaintiff was upset when he learned that his
photograph had been placed in the article published by Mass.
Media. He acknowledged that he had sent the electronic mail
message from "Eric Jones," in order to preserve his
privacy, but insisted that he had done nothing wrong and that
he sought only to protect himself from the attack of the bus
driver and the unsafe conditions on the bus. UMass police
took possession of the plaintiff's UMass-owned cellular
telephone, which was issued in conjunction with his job,
later conducted a search of the image files stored on it with
the assistance of an assistant district attorney. None of the
files dated March 13, 2013, were photographs of women.
Instead, several photographs from the time of the incident
depicted buses and a bus driver.
months following the publication of this story, the plaintiff
sensed lingering hostility around the UMass campus. He
noticed that bus drivers would slow down and stare at him as
they passed. He also perceived repercussions at his work.
Coworkers asked him if he had seen the newspaper articles.
His workload was increased, and he was left out of critical
meetings. Finally, seven months after the publication, the
plaintiff left his job at UMass.
January 2014, the plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a six-count
complaint in the Superior Court against UMass and several
individual defendants. In May 2015, a Superior Court judge
allowed the defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to
Mass. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), 365 Mass. 754 (1974), and
dismissed all of the counts except the plaintiff's claims
of defamation against Vishniac and intentional infliction of
emotional distress against Vishniac and defendants University
of Massachusetts, Keith Motley, Winston Langley, Hanes
Overton, Donald Baynard, Paul Parlon, and Brian Forbes
(collectively, the University defendants).
University defendants and Vishniac jointly filed a motion for
summary judgment in September 2016; the motion was granted in
November 2016. In allowing the motion for summary judgment,
the judge determined that the content of the articles was
both attributed to official police logs and a substantially
accurate account of those logs. He concluded, therefore, that
the purportedly defamatory statements fell under the
"fair report privilege" and, as such, were not
plaintiff appealed and, in September 2018, the Appeals Court
reversed the judgment as to Vishniac, after concluding that
the fair report privilege did not apply. See Butcher
v. University of Mass., 94 Mass.App.Ct. 33, 34
(2018). We granted the defendants' application for
further appellant review, limited to the claims against
favor summary judgment in defamation cases, in light of the
chilling effect that the threat of litigation can have on
activities protected by the First Amendment to the United
States Constitution. See Kingv. Globe Newspaper
Co., 400 Mass. 705, 708 (1987) ("Even if a
defendant in a libel case is ultimately successful at trial,
the costs of litigation may induce an unnecessary and
undesirable self-censorship"); New England
Tractor-Trailer Training of Conn., Inc. v.Globe Newspaper Co., 395 Mass. 471, 476 (1985),
cert, denied, 485 U.S. 836 (1988). Nonetheless, to prevail on
a motion for summary judgment in a defamation action, the