Defamation lawsuits filed by the founder of the rock group Boston against the ex-wife of the band’s late lead singer and the Boston Herald were thrown out Wednesday by the highest court in Massachusetts.
Tom Scholz sued after the Herald published articles in which leader singer Brad Delp’s ex-wife, Micki, made remarks that Scholz claimed could be construed as blaming him for Delp’s 2007 suicide.
A lower court judge threw out the lawsuit against Micki Delp in 2011, but the state Appeals Court reinstated it. A different judge threw out Scholz’s separate lawsuit against the Herald.
Ruling in appeals in both cases Wednesday, the Supreme Judicial Court found that Micki Delp’s statements were opinions, so they could not form the basis of a defamation claim.
Boston, best known for its 1976 debut album and hit single “More Than a Feeling,” toured successfully for years, but in the early 1980s, there was a falling out between Scholz and three band members who ended up leaving the group. Scholz continued to tour with different group members, including Delp, who also maintained his friendship with his former bandmates.
Delp had a long history of anxiety and depression. In stories written by Herald columnists, Micki Delp said Brad Delp was upset over lingering bad feelings from the band’s breakup more than 20 years earlier and was constantly caught in the middle between Scholz and his former bandmates.
The court found the statements were clearly opinions, not verifiable facts.
“The statements at issue could not have been understood by a reasonable reader to have been anything but opinions regarding the reason Brad committed suicide,” the court wrote in its opinion.
In a statement supplied by Scholz’s publicist, Scholz said he is disappointed in the court’s ruling.
“Mr. Scholz believes this decision will have adverse consequences well beyond his case against the Herald because it regrettably means that people are largely free to accuse another of causing someone’s suicide, even when, as here, the accusation is false,” the statement said.
“In the end, Mr. Scholz remains saddened by the loss of his friend and bandmate, Brad Delp.”
The statement said that based on Delp’s final emails and suicide notes, Delp’s suicide came after difficulties in his personal life and was “entirely unrelated to his working relationship with Mr. Scholz.”
Jeffrey Robbins, an attorney for the Herald, said the ruling “affirms that both citizens and journalists have the right to ruminate about the motivations behind conduct — whether it’s the motivations of public officials or public figures or others — without being threatened with a libel suit.”