NBC Must Defend Conduct in 'To Catch A Predator' Lawsuit Says Judge

Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Chris Hansen, host of "To Catch a Predator"

A federal judge in California is allowing a man featured on NBC's To Catch A Predator to go ahead with a claim that the program violated his rights to privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Anurag Tiwari, a former Sun Microsystems engineer, who was ensnared in 2006 in the oft-repeated trap where show producers worked with a watchdog group and law enforcement to find alleged pedophiles. Tiwari was lured to a sting house and confronted by NBC cameras. He was later convicted of a misdemeanor, which was reduced to a criminal infraction as part of a plea deal in exchange for dropping an appeal.

Tiwari then sued NBC, claiming a violation of civil rights, emotional distress and defamation.

NBC responded by holding up the First Amendment as immunizing the show against these allegations. The network's defense has only been partly successful.

In a ruling last week, U.S. District Court judge Edward Chen rejected NBC's contention that the production of the show and the broadcast of the show are inherently intertwined.

According to the decision:

"A reasonable jury could find in Mr. Tiwari’s favor based on the allegations in his complaint – e.g. , that it was not necessary for law enforcement to wait until after [host Chris] Hansen confronted Mr. Tiwari before arresting him, that it was not necessary for law enforcement to arrest Mr. Tiwari in a sensational way, and that it was not necessary to film Mr.Tiwari physically restrained and in handcuffs during his detention and interview with the police."

The judge goes on to say that it's plausible that Tiwari suffered emotional distress simply from the discovery of the filming and the recording of events and so NBC will have to defend its conduct beyond the broadcast depiction of the events in question.

The argument that the First Amendment protects NBC's broadcast, though, does allow the network to escape Tiwari's claim that he was defamed by the show's suggestion he was caught up in acts worthy of a felony.

NBC countered that its show was a privileged media report that was "substantially true," which even though Tiwari was never convicted of a felony, the judge accepts to be accurate.

The defamation claim is now gone, but NBC will still have to justify before a jury its actions in how it prepared the filming of those pedophile traps.

Here's the decision in full:

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner