Frankfurt am Main Regional Court: Atty. Dr. Seyfert wins lawsuit against famous journalist and TV host and news anchor; no claim against our client (defendant) for monetary compensation due to alleged violation of the general right of personality (Case No. 2-03 O 105/19)

The plaintiff is a journalist and TV host and reporter. He worked for many years as a TV host and news anchor for the German TV station Hessischer Rundfunk. The plaintiff repeatedly went public with his homosexuality in the past. There were extensive reports about his relationship in 2006 with his partner at the time.

The defendant (our client) belonged to the plaintiff’s wider circle of acquaintances.

In March 2017, the parties had a communication in the course of which the defendant terminated the plaintiff’s friendship. The plaintiff then said that he was disturbed by the defendant’s “gossip” about his new partner.

On June 18th, 2018, the BILD newspaper reported in its Frankfurt edition, which has a printed circulation of around 118,000 copies daily as well as online, that the plaintiff had a new partner under the headline “(Plaintiff’s name) has ‘a new one’“. The plaintiff had appeared with his new partner at a party. The article was accompanied by a picture of the plaintiff and his new partner as well as the text “… (name of the plaintiff) appeared with (name of his new partner)“.

The text itself reads:

And (name of the plaintiff) … has in the meantime garnished himself with a new one. At the opening party … it seemed as if he had turned up with a bodyguard. In fact, it is the 40-year-old (name of his new partner). He did not leave (name of the plaintiff)’s side the whole evening. (Name of the plaintiff): “We met through an acquaintance”.”

The corresponding online article of June 17th, 2018, which could be shared and commented on via Facebook through a link in the post, was shared and commented on by a large number of people.

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) also reported on the plaintiff’s new relationship, including a picture of the plaintiff and the first name and age of his new partner.

On August 29th, 2018, between 22:00 and 23:00, the defendant (our client) shared the online article of the BILD newspaper on the Facebook page of the basketball club of the plaintiff’s new partner via Facebook with the following comment in French and Croatian: “It is a positive sign that athletes are allowed to be gay and to get involved. If the article of one of the biggest German newspapers is correct, (first name of the plaintiff) and (first name of his new partner) form a couple. Subject to the accuracy of this report: Congratulations.” Our client had already deleted this division of the online article of the BILD newspaper and his comment at 1:30 am.

In the court proceedings, the plaintiff demanded from the defendant, among other things, monetary compensation (damages for pain and suffering) in the amount of at least 5,000.00 Euros due to a serious violation of his general right of personality. The defendant had allegedly made details of the plaintiff’s private life public. The defendant had shared the article in the BILD newspaper on Facebook, specifically on the Facebook page of the association of the plaintiff’s partner and had also commented on it in French and Croatian, thus addressing people from the direct environment of the plaintiff’s partner. According to the case law of the German Federal Court of Justice, an invasion of privacy allegedly existed if a love relationship that had been kept secret was disclosed in a correct manner.

The Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main rightly dismissed the action in its entirety to the benefit of our client. Our client had simply not committed a violation of personality rights, let alone a serious violation of the general right of personality, which is a prerequisite for monetary compensation for pain and suffering. The popular plaintiff had openly appeared with his new partner and had openly allowed himself to be photographed with his partner by a BILD newspaper photographer. With publication in the BILD newspaper, the plaintiff’s relationship with his new partner was known to a wider public. The mere sharing of this BILD newspaper article on Facebook could not have subsequently caused any infringement of the plaintiff’s right of personality.

The Frankfurt am Main Regional Court had therefore rightly dismissed the action. In the meantime, this first-instance ruling has become legally binding.