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Rubin v. CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 17, 2017

HOWARD RUBIN Appellant
v.
CBS BROADCASTING INC. D/B/A CBS 3 Appellee

         Appeal from the Order Entered October 20, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): 1515 November Term, 2014

          BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., MOULTON, J., and FITZGERALD, J. [*]

          OPINION

          MOULTON, J.

         Howard Rubin appeals the October 20, 2015 order entered in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas granting the motion of CBS Broadcasting Inc. d/b/a CBS 3 ("CBS") for judgment on the pleadings. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         This appeal arises from a news report related to Rubin's September 2014 termination from his job as a school police officer at Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School ("MACS") in Philadelphia. The central issue on appeal is whether the substance of that report - that Rubin was fired from his job "over allegations of child sexual abuse" - was sufficiently close to the undisputed facts to warrant judgment on the pleadings for CBS. We conclude that it was not.

         On September 29, 2014, during the 6:00 p.m. airing of Eyewitness News on a television station owned and operated by CBS, anchor Chris May[1]read the following report regarding Rubin's termination: "A police supervisor at a Philadelphia charter school is fired over allegations of child sexual abuse. Howard Rubin is the suspect. He is accused in the sexual abuse of an underage male student. Rubin worked at the Multi-Cultural Charter School on North Broad Street." Opinion Pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a), 1/20/16, at 2 ("1925(a) Op.").

         On September 30, 2014, Eyewitness News aired the following statement:

We would like to correct a story we reported yesterday. We reported that a police supervisor at the Philadelphia Multi-Cultural Academy Charter School was fired over allegations that he sexually abused a male student at the school.
According to the school's principal, the supervisor's contract was not renewed by the school. But the principal says the supervisor was never accused of sexual abuse of any student, and his separation from the school did not have anything to do with any allegations of abuse.
Sources now tell us that Philadelphia Police Special Victims Unit has no record of any investigation or charges involving the police supervisor.
We apologize for the error.

Id. at 2.[2]

         On May 8, 2015, Rubin filed an amended complaint alleging defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims against both CBS and May. On May 18, 2015, CBS and May filed an answer with new matter. The new matter referenced, and attached, the September 13, 2014, termination letter to Rubin from James Higgins, MACS' principal. The letter provided as follows:

Dear Officer Rubin:
This letter is in reference to your employment at [MACS] as a School Police Officer.
As we discussed this past Thursday, September 11, some serious allegations have been made against you, which are now being investigated by police. On Thursday, you were immediately suspended indefinitely, without compensation, and MACS has been conducting its own investigation of these allegations, independent of the police probe.
While we have yet to complete our investigation, we have determined that your behavior, at the very least, and even by your own admission, was unbecoming of a school police officer and a public employee.
You have been warned in writing about fraternizing with minors, and you have acknowledged that you understood that this type of behavior would not be tolerated again. Because of your failure to honor this expectation, we have decided that your employment with MACS will not be renewed for the 2014-2015 ...

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