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libel slander and defamation

“A U.S. judge in Mississippi [last month] threw out an $85-million lawsuit in which an electric car company founded by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe alleged Watchdog.org had libeled the firm.” [Watchdog, earlier]

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In the North of England, “South Tyneside Council has abandoned its hunt for notorious blogger Mr Monkey after spending more than £200,000 of taxpayers’ cash.” [Chronicle] The widely read blog had made scurrilous charges against council members and others. “The authority said it had a ‘duty’ to protect staff and councillors against” what it called “cyber-bullying and harassment.” “Councils cannot sue for libel. Any action against the ‘Mr Monkey’ blogger could only be taken by named individuals.” [BBC] More: Daily Mail, Taxpayers Alliance.

“A New York man who was caught sleeping at a recent Yankees game against the Red Sox on ESPN is filing a $10 million defamation suit against broadcasters Dan Shulman and John Kruk for their ‘avalanche of disparaging words,’ according to the New York Post.” Andrew Robert Rector’s complaint over the broadcasters’ “vituperative utterances” appears to have been translated awkwardly into English from some other language, a sample sentence reading: “It is well known that rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is always the biggest in all of sport.” [Sporting News]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2014

  • “Tenured Wisconsin Prof Sues Former Student Over Online Comments on Her Teaching” [Caron/TaxProf]
  • Recent Paul Alan Levy profile: “The web bully’s worst enemy” [Washingtonian] HHS signals it won’t pursue case against blogger [Levy, earlier] Arizona Yelp case angle [Scott Greenfield]
  • Get your ideas out of town: threats against hotel “have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and other guests” [Deadline Detroit; "men's rights movement" conference]
  • UK police investigate Baptist church after “burn in Hell” sign reported as “hate incident” [Secular Right]
  • Please don’t give him ideas: “Should it be against the law to criticize Harry Reid?” [Trevor Burrus, Boston Herald]
  • “MAP: The places where blasphemy could get you punished” [Washington Post]
  • Only three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kansas — have laws inviting vengeful secret John Doe probes [Ilya Shapiro, earlier]

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The defendant in the Duluth doctor-rating defamation case that we recounted here and here “told the Star Tribune he spent the equivalent of two years’ income, some of which he had to borrow from relatives who supplied the money by raiding their retirement funds.” The Minnesota Supreme Court eventually ruled that his comments were protected opinion. The doctor/plaintiff, for his part, spent $60,000 pursuing the suit. [Twin Cities Business]

The same article, a “Lawsuits of the Year 2013″ feature, also recounts how a couple under the influence of “sovereign citizen” teachings “filed more than $250 billion in liens, and other claims, against those they considered the cause of their problems, including [Hennepin County Sheriff Rich] Stanek, county attorneys and other court officials. The liens were filed against vehicles, houses and even mineral rights.” When Stanek went to refinance his property, he discovered he had been hit with $25 million in liens which took “several years” to remove entirely. The husband of the couple was sent to prison.

Author Jon Entine, associated with George Mason U.’s STATS project and a visiting fellow at AEI, wrote a highly critical piece at Forbes.com about Mike Adams, whose extremely controversial views on science, medicine, vaccines, GMOs and other topics get wide circulation through the site Natural News, much shared on the internet. Adams’s resulting legal threats led Forbes to pull down the Entine piece (the publication of which Adams deemed “cyber-bullying” and “electronic harassment”), and Keith Kloor at DiscoverBlogs prints choice excerpts from what is said to be Adams’s electronic correspondence with Entine. More: Sharon Hill, Doubtful News.

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Not a good idea for anyone, really, but an especially bad idea for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [Ken at Popehat; Paul Alan Levy (reminding that "the government itself cannot be defamed")]

Down the same alley: when the mayor of Peoria seized on a misdemeanor law banning “impersonating a public official” as grounds for sending police after a clearly satirical Twitter account, he bit off more than he might be able to chew [Ars Technica, earlier]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on April 14, 2014

  • “Money spent trying to spread a political message is speech, whether you like the message or not.” [Michael Kinsley on McCutcheon v. FEC, earlier]
  • “Letter: Ken Avidor on Being Silenced By a Defamation Suit” [Romenesko]
  • “Canada’s first Twitter harassment trial has taken a strange twist.” [Christie Blatchford, National Post]
  • In union leader’s defamation suit, Philadelphia court orders anonymous commenter unmasked [CBS Philly]
  • New Jersey ruling letting parents be sued over kids’ Facebook posts will chill speech [Hans Bader/CEI, earlier]
  • More dispatches from Michael Mann-Mark Steyn litigation showdown [Steyn, Charles Cooke] Bonus: Steyn on Andrew Bolt case in Australia and on Nevada protests’ “First Amendment Area” (“The ‘First Amendment Area’ is supposed to be something called ‘the United States’.”)
  • “True-crime author Ann Rule’s suit against Seattle Weekly tossed” [KING]

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Court order muzzles gun advocate after his arrest [ACLU of Missouri]:

To express his opinion that Officer [Jerry] Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, [Jordan] Klaffer posted recordings of the May 1 encounter on YouTube and Facebook. And, on Instagram, he posted a picture of Bledsoe alongside a photo of Saddam Hussein, with the caption “Striking Resemblance.”

Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet. “A government order prohibiting criticism of government is the worst kind of censorship,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

Meanwhile: Virginia state trooper sues police activist in small claims court over his actions and statements following a traffic stop of his car in which she participated, the videos of which wound up on YouTube.

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How a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada expanding defenses in defamation law emboldened reporters and made possible tough press coverage of the Toronto mayor [Ivor Tossell, Walrus Magazine]

Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane dropped a longstanding corruption “sting” probe that had snagged several Philly officials. The Philadelphia Inquirer raised questions about her decision in its reporting, which contributed to a public outcry over the episode. Then Attorney General Kane brought a prominent libel litigator with her to a meeting with the Inquirer editors, and that lawyer announced that Kane was exploring her options of suing the paper and others that had reported on the matter, and that he was going to do the talking for her.

On Sunday the paper continued to cover the sting story here and here. Ed Krayewski comments at Reason. Longtime Overlawyered readers may recognize the name of Kane’s attorney Richard Sprague.

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Fifty years ago yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its greatest tort reform decision — just for you. [Related 2003 Baseball Crank post on federalism.]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on February 25, 2014

  • Cato Institute reissues Jonathan Rauch’s classic Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks On Free Thought after 20 years, with new introduction by George F. Will and new afterword by the author [Jason Kuznicki; Reason Foundation] The free-speech Supreme Court decision without which there would have been no gay-rights movement [Rauch guestblogging at Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Important stuff: Ken White vs. Mark Steyn on how to respond to lawsuits against speech [Popehat]
  • “Blogger: Go Ahead and Sue; I’ve Got Nothing To Lose” [Greensboro, N.C., sued by developer; Romenesko] Is it possible to defame a business by putting up a Craigslist post linking to an online docket showing lawsuits against it? [Cook County Record]
  • U.K. aims to tweak existing X-rated internet filters to block “extremist” websites [TechDirt] Europe’s hate speech laws may actually prepare the ground for sowers of hate [Jamie Kirchick, Tablet]
  • Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy, ACLU of Maryland assist anonymous blogger targeted by Brett Kimberlin [Consumer Law & Policy]
  • “Rhode Island Cops Vigilant In Face of Scourge of People Making Fun of State Representative Scott Guthrie” [Popehat]
  • “If you are determined to sue 1,200 people for linking to a newsworthy article, you may begin with me.” [John Scalzi]

If a thin-skinned academic sues a magazine for criticizing him too harshly, and you find yourself hoping the magazine will get sued into bankruptcy because you disagree with its views, you might not want to claim for yourself the honorable word liberal [Damon Linker/The Week, Stephen Carter/Bloomberg, Eugene Volokh on role of libel insurance, earlier here, here, etc.]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 30, 2014

  • “Bloggers = Media for First Amendment Libel Law Purposes” [Obsidian Finance Corp. v. Cox; Volokh]
  • Co-workers’ taking of Lord’s name in vain is element in discrimination claim of religious harassment [Oregon; Ruder Ware]
  • “Michigan Court of Appeals Again Protects Anonymous Criticism” [Paul Alan Levy] Virginia by contrast adopts standard less protective of speech [same] Is D.C. lawyer attempting to unmask Wikipedia editor in defamation suit a “public figure?” [NLJ]
  • Judge Posner blasts class-action firm for supposed misconduct, law firm offers evidence to rebut that and proceeds to sue law firm McGuire Woods for allegedly misrepresenting facts of case at its prominent Class Action Countermeasures blog [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
  • “Lawyer says he will drop suit alleging website unfairly cast him as a ‘tree mutilator'” [ABA Journal (compares townspeople who criticized tree removal to "bullies,") Greenfield, Columbia (Mo.) Tribune]
  • “The victims are ‘too Christian’ to excite the Left, and ‘too foreign’ to excite the Right.” [Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, on Mideast persecution] “God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did” [Nick Cohen on UK's Maajid Nawaz t-shirt controversy via @secularright, Ken at Popehat] Prison for “blasphemous” Facebook posting, in Greece, not Pakistan or Sudan [Guardian]
  • Defendants in Michael Mann’s lawsuit against critics seem to be getting standard “don’t write about getting sued” instructions from their lawyers, but that’s not easy advice to give Mark Steyn [SteynOnline, Jonathan Adler (Mann wins a round opening way to discovery]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2014

  • Setback for climate scientist Michael Mann in defamation suit against critics [Jonathan Adler, Mark Steyn, earlier here and here; update, Mann wins a round] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has taken interest on defendants’ side [Steyn] “Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions” [NYT on Shuler case in Alabama, on which earlier; more]
  • Religious liberty: “When thought is a crime, no other freedom can long survive.” [Doug Bandow]
  • Nigeria’s new jail-the-gays law is brutally repressive toward speech and association. Oil-rich country gets upwards of $500 million in US foreign aid a year [Reuters, AP and followup, Al-Jazeera]
  • Members of Ramapough tribe in New Jersey sue Hollywood over “Out of the Furnace” depiction [AP]
  • “California’s New Law Shows It’s Not Easy To Regulate Revenge Porn” [Eric Goldman]
  • Catching up on the Ampersand case, where the NLRB got slapped down trying to restrict newspaper owner’s First Amendment rights [Harry G. Hutchison]
  • Video interview with noted civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate [Cato]

Fifty years ago today…

by Walter Olson on January 7, 2014

…the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument in what was to become one of its most celebrated tort reform decisions. A profitable national manufacturer had been sued in a distant rural state in which it was decidedly unpopular, resulting in a runaway jury verdict which it sought to challenge on appeal. Pointing out the disadvantages of unpredictable and locally variable tort standards, the corporation’s lawyers pushed for a more uniform and modern standard of liability suited to a nationwide market, which the high court agreed unanimously to develop for the occasion and impose on state courts. And ever since 1964, the winning party in the case — that is to say, the New York Times Company — has taken a sympathetic editorial interest in the plight of other national businesses subjected to runaway verdicts in local courts.

Well, OK, maybe not that last sentence. But the rest of it did happen, in the celebrated case of New York Times v. Sullivan.

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The country’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly law of defamation will be a tad less so under legislated reforms now taking effect. Under the Defamation Act 2013, complainants will need to show “serious harm,” peer-reviewed scientific publications and material published in the public interest will gain a new defense, a single-publication rule will be introduced, and new rules intended to combat libel tourism will exclude cases with little connection to England or Wales. [BBC]