A recent Idaho state court opinion ordering an Idaho newspaper to unmask the identity of an anonymous commenter on the newspaper's website demonstrates, among other things, the pitfalls that come with a clumsily worded retraction.
The case, Jacobson v. Doe, arose from a blog entry posted in February 2012 on the Spokesman-Review's website about Tina Jacobson, the chair of the county Republican Central Committee. The post included a picture of Jacobson posing with then-Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and other local Republicans. In an anonymous comment to the story, a ... Read More
Back in March, we reported on a North Carolina federal court's dismissal of a defamation claim brought against two out-of-state publishers and an out-of-state author based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. In that case, Judge Louise W. Flanagan rejected plaintiff's argument that simply because a handful of books had been sold in North Carolina in the "stream of commerce," the court could exercise jurisdiction over the defendants.
Judge Flanagan wrote that:
"[t]o permit a state to assert jurisdiction over any person in the country whose product is sold in the state simply because a ...
Jeff Greene, who was recently routed in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Florida, has filed a massive -- in more ways than one -- defamation suit against the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald. The complaint, which was filed on September 1 and checks in at 54 pages, seeks $250 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.
According to the complaint, Greene's claim arises, in part, from a series of stories discussing a real estate deal Greene was involved in. One of the other parties to the deal has been indicted by a federal ... Read More
North Carolina federal district court Judge Louise Flanagan offered a helpful reminder to lawyers last week that the first month of Civil Procedure class really does matter. The result of her Order in Dutcher v. Eastburn, Da Capo Press, LLC, and Perseus Books, Inc. was that a libel claim brought in North Carolina against two out-of-state publishers and an author from Colorado was dismissed, relieving the defendants from the substantial cost of taking depositions and attempting to get the case dismissed on summary judgment.
The case arose from the publication in late 2007 of a book ... Read More
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently revived a defamation suit brought by a prominent California preacher against ABC and reporter John Stossel. The case, which had been dismissed by the District Court under California's anti-SLAPP statute, arose from a broadcast of ABC's 20/20 in which Stossel reported on the financial dealings of ministers like the plaintiff Frederick Price. In particular, Stossel's story focused on whether money donated to some churches was being put to good use or simply lining the preacher's own pockets.
The Ninth Circuit ... Read More
New Jersey's highest court has overturned an intermediate appellate decision that had refused to apply the "fair report" privilege to accounts of initial pleadings filed in civil lawsuits. The Supreme Court's decision, issued in the case of Salzano v. North Jersey Media Group, Inc., represents an important victory for the press and the public.
We previously reported on the decision of the New Jersey Court of Appeals, which took a narrow view of the application of the fair report privilege. The privilege is critical to reporting on official statements and actions by government ... Read More
A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Appellate District in Ohio has affirmed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of an Ohio radio station in a defamation and false light invasion of privacy case involving a former candidate for judicial election. The Fifth District’s opinion in Christiansen v. WCLT et al. is linked here.
Shortly before the November 2008 general election, radio station WCLT (Newark, Ohio) aired and posted to its website a political editorial in which the station’s general manager expressed his opinion that two of three candidates were ... Read More
The answer, of course, is a resounding no (and no, snarky readers, not because of the libel-proof plaintiff doctrine).
The surprising thing about that question, is not the answer, but rather that nearly 50 years after the United States Supreme Court's landmark defamation decision N.Y. Times Co. v. Sullivan the question still has to be asked in the context of a current lawsuit.
The lawsuit giving rise to the headline was brought by Steve Theriot, interim president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana and by the Parish itself. In it, the plaintiffs claim that John Does 1 through 100 -- all ... Read More
Earlier this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of a defamation action, holding that the filing of the complaint was sanctionable under Rule 11. In Ward v. Jett Properties, LLC, the plaintiff filed an action pro se, contending that his landlord defamed him in a letter sent to a representative of the homeowners association of the development where the plaintiff lived.
The matter started with a letter the plaintiff sent to the defendant, complaining about various actions by neighboring tenants. In response, the defendant wrote back ... Read More
The Volokh Conspiracy recently blogged about a 2008 Massachusetts Superior Court order granting a libel defendants’ motion to dismiss defamation and business defamation claims because the defendant had “no continuing duty to investigate the accuracy” of a news article that was posted by the defendant on its website. The case, Jenzabar, Inc. v. Long Bow Group, Inc., No. 2007-2075H (Mass. Super Ct., Aug. 5, 2008) is linked from the Volokh site here.
The case is an interesting one, first, for its treatment of the fair report privilege and, second, because it is another example ... Read More
In a decision that goes against the grain of a building legal consensus around the country, an Illinois trial court has ordered the disclosure of the identity of an anonymous blogger who the plaintiff, a local politician, claims defamed her 15-year-old son.
The controversy started this spring, as local elections in Buffalo Grove Village were heating up, when an online debate between the candidate's son and "Hipcheck16" got testy. When challenged to a live debate, Hipcheck16, wrote, according to reports: "Seems like you're very willing to invite a man you only know from the Internet ... Read More
A decision last week from the North Carolina Court of Appeals illustrates an important principle concerning the nature of appellate review in defamation actions -- that non-final orders are ordinarily not subject to immediate appeal by the plaintiff. The case of Nguyen v. Taylor involved a host of libel and related claims brought by five Greensboro police officers against a rapper, Jayceon Taylor, known as "The Game", arising out of an October 28, 2005, incident that occurred in a Greensboro mall. Taylor was arrested after he and his entourage were asked to leave the mall and an ... Read More
Late last week a federal jury returned a verdict in the defendant's favor in a libel case from Massachusetts that has attracted national attention. The case, Noonan v. Staples, came into the spotlight because of a ruling from the First Circuit Court of Appeals that the plaintiff's libel claim could go to trial even if the communication at issue were true or substantially true. We wrote about the decision here, noting the consternation the decision had drawn from First Amendment advocates for its implication that a truthful publication, if published with common-law ... Read More
Earlier this month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals released an opinion paving the way for Michael Pressler, former coach of the Duke University lacrosse team, to sue Duke University and a university spokesperson for slander and libel related to statements made in the aftermath of the Duke lacrosse case.
Pressler was the Duke lacrosse coach in 2006 when the Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong initiated a high-profile, and later discredited, investigation into allegations that members of the lacrosse team raped a dancer at an off-campus party. The North Carolina Attorney ... Read More
A New York trial judge ruled recently that cover model Liskula Cohen was entitled to learn the identity of the anonymous author of the short-lived "Skanks in NYC" blog. Cohen claimed that the blogger had defamed her in August 2008 when the blogger wrote: "I would have to say that the first place award for 'Skankiest in NYC' would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen." The blogger later called Cohen a "psychotic, lying, whoring . . . skank."
The blog was hosted by Google, so in January, Cohen asked a judge to order Google to disclose the blogger's identity. A lawyer appeared for the blogger ... Read More
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the highest court for cases arising in the District of Columbia, continued the recent trend of requiring defamation plaintiffs to meet an elevated legal standard when they serve a subpoena seeking the identity of an anonymous speaker. Like Maryland's highest court, the District of Columbia appellate court held that a plaintiff must proffer sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment before a motion to compel will be granted.
The D.C. case, Solers, Inc. v. John Doe, was brought by Solers, a software company, alleging that Doe had ... Read More
The Twitter phenomena has seemingly gone viral this summer. What started out as a quirky way for people to send brief (140 characters or fewer!!) updates on their daily activities, thoughts, or opinions, is now a major source of breaking news. From the streets of Iran to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice field, correspondents of all stripes are Tweeting first, blogging second, and (maybe) writing a story for the crusty old newspaper third.
According to a recent story in the Raleigh News & Observer, a former Republican mayor of Raleigh, and current candidate for chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, Tom Fetzer, has sued a Wilmington radio station and disc jockey for defamation because the disc jockey forwarded an email to others that "insinuat[ed] that Fetzer is gay." Fetzer's civil complaint can be read here.
As has been widely reported, there is a North Carolina Court of Appeals decision that would appear to make Fetzer's claim a legal long shot. In Donovan v. Fiumara, 442 S.E.2d 524 (N.C. Ct. App. 1994), the ... Read More
In late February, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with a trial court ruling that a jury was entitled to decide whether calling the plaintiff a “gangster” and a “thug,” and alleging that he had been intoxicated at a convention, was indeed defamatory. In a Solomonic twist, however, the court nonetheless vacated the trial court’s judgment for the plaintiff because of reversible errors in the jury instructions.
The claim arose from a column in the Korean-language Inside the World newspaper, which opined that a prominent businessman in the ... Read More
The First Circuit recently affirmed summary judgment in favor of Fox News Network and Fox personalities Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade over a three-hour cable program during which the hosts discussed a report of an alleged “hate crime” at a public school in Lewiston, Maine, where the plaintiff was the superintendent of schools. During the program, Doocy and Kilmeade repeatedly quoted an article about the incident that contained false quotations and false citation to the Associated Press but also contained substantially true information.
On March 18, 2009, the First Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc of a case in which a panel of the First Circuit recognized that, under Massachusetts law, truth is not an absolute defense to a libel claim. The defendant raised a constitutional attack against the state statute that served as the basis of the panel's decision, but the First Circuit determined that the constitutional argument was not properly before the court. The outcome—in which common-law malice may defeat the truth defense—cannot easily be squared with the federal constitutional requirements for ... Read More
We previously reported that Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist, filed a defamation lawsuit in December against the New York Times over an article published during the 2008 presidential campaign. In particular, Iseman contended in her complaint that the article falsely implied that she and then-candidate John McCain had carried on an illicit and inappropriate romantic relationship while Iseman worked for clients before a Senate committee chaired by McCain.
On January 29, 2009, a panel of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, reversed a trial court’s order denying a motion to dismiss a plaintiff’s libel complaint, holding that the allegedly libelous statements constituted non-actionable opinion. A copy of the decision is linked here.
In Bonanni v. Hearst Communications, Inc., No. 505007 (N.Y. App. Jan. 29, 2009), the plaintiff, a member of the City of Albany Police Department, sued the owner of the Times Union newspaper (actually the Hearst Corporation, not Hearst Communications) over the content of two articles that ... Read More
Vicki Iseman, a Washington lobbyist, yesterday filed a defamation action against The New York Times, four of the newspaper's reporters, its executive editor, and the chief of its Washington bureau in federal court in Richmond, Virginia. In her complaint, she contends that a February 2008 article published in the Times that linked her to Senator and then-Presidential candidate John McCain was susceptible of defamatory meaning. She seeks to recover $27 million in damages for the alleged defamation.
Iseman alleges the article, through its literal words and by implication ... Read More
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