In an opinion released Friday, the N.H. Supreme Court ruled that reality television show North Woods Law did not violate the constitutional rights of a New Durham couple when it included their pixelated faces in a segment of a 2018 episode entitled Weed Whackers.
The unanimous decision overturned a lower court ruling that found the program portrayed Dale and Ann Mansfield in a false light, after showing them questioned by a conservation officer about a marijuana patch found near their home. Later in the episode, another man who lived in the area is arrested for allegedly growing the marijuana.
The faces of the Mansfields were blurred during the broadcast, but they alleged in a 2019 civil suit that acquaintances were still able to identify them after the episode aired, and that the show didn’t clearly exculpate them from the crime.
After hearing oral arguments and apparently watching the episode in question, the four justices of the Supreme Court ruled that even if the show did not explicitly clear the Mansfields of any involvement, “the episode placed responsibility for the illegal activity squarely on the neighbor, rather than on the plaintiffs. Therefore, because the episode did not provide the false implication that the plaintiffs claim, the plaintiffs have not adequately pled the element of falsity.”
Lawyers for the show’s production company had argued that upholding the lower court’s ruling would have a chilling effect on free speech and free press protections.