A circuit court in Cook County, Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of Crain Communications (a publishing company) and others for publishing an article in June 2016 that allegedly was defamatory against Joseph J. Fox, then co-founder and CEO of Ditto Holdings, Inc.

(See Fox v. Crain Communications, Inc., et al., Case No. 17L5955.)

The article, titled “Frustrated investors led Fox hunt in LA” in digital form and “The Elusive Fox Who Fled to L.A.” in print, addressed Ditto’s financial position, investigations launched by the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an employment lawsuit filed by a former Ditto executive, and testimonials from Ditto’s investors.

In his complaint, Fox alleged that the following statement and headlines in the article were false: a “federal judge in Chicago agreed with Simons, ordering Ditto in April to pay him $2.7 million” (the Judge Statement), “Frustrated investors led Fox hunt in LA,” and “The Elusive Fox Who Fled to L.A.” Fox claimed that Crain Communications, the company’s editor, and the reporter of the article (collectively, Crain Communications) knowingly published false and defamatory information about him.

Crain Communications moved for summary judgment on several bases, namely that:


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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a case against BuzzFeed, an internet media company, for publishing an allegedly libelous article about a British news agency, Central European News Ltd. (“CEN”), and its founder, Michael Leidig. See Leidig v. BuzzFeed, Inc., No. 19-851-cv (2d Cir. Dec. 19, 2019) (“Order”).

In April 2015, BuzzFeed published the article in question, entitled “The King of Bullsh*t News” (the “Article”). The Article addressed news stories on various bizarre topics sold by CEN to third-party English-language media services around the world. CEN’s stories reported, for example, that a two-headed goat was born on a farm in China, that a Russian woman killed her kitten by dying it pink, and that teenagers in China were walking cabbages on leashes to alleviate feelings of loneliness. The Article – based on many months of investigation conducted by BuzzFeed journalists – stated that “the evidence assembled by BuzzFeed News suggests that an alarming proportion of CEN’s ‘weird news’ stories are based on exaggeration, embellishment, and outright fabrication[.]”


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A recent decision from a United States District Court in New York dismissing a defamation claim against cable television host and national correspondent Joy Reid provides a mixed bag of findings in the world of defamation lawsuits. The central issue in Roslyn La Liberte v. Joy Reid was whether the defendant, Reid, had defamed the plaintiff when she re-posted content about La Liberte on social media. Although the decision is generally a garden variety dismissal of defamation claims, the court also rejected the defendant’s Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) defense and applied California’s anti-SLAPP statute to award Reid her attorneys’ fees and costs.

The posts at issue concerned a photograph of La Liberte, in which she appears to be shouting at a teenage boy. The photograph was taken at a city council meeting for a highly politicized senate bill, intended to limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities. A few days after the photo was taken, an activist named Alan Vargas tweeted the image and suggested that La Liberte was yelling: “You are going to be the first deported . . . dirty Mexican.” Reid re-tweeted the photograph on two separate occasions, first on social media along with the caption:

He showed up to rally to defend immigrants . . . She showed up too, in her MAGA hat, and screamed, “You are going to be the first deported” . . . “dirty Mexican!” He is 14 years old. She is an adult. Make the picture black and white and it could be the 1950s and the desegregation of a school. Hate is real, y’all. It hasn’t even really gone away.


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On December 6, a federal jury in the Central District of California found that Tesla CEO Elon Musk did not defame cave diver Vernon Unsworth by referring to him in a tweet as “pedo guy.” Unsworth v. Musk, No. 2:18-cv-08048 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 6, 2019). Unsworth, who helped rescue a boys’ soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand in July 2018, alleged that a series of tweets Musk published to his nearly 30 million Twitter followers were defamatory, falsely accused Mr. Unsworth of being a pedophile and child rapist, and caused Unsworth worldwide damage to his reputation and emotional distress. The jury deliberated for less than one hour before finding in favor of Musk.

During a CNN interview following the 2018 rescue, Unsworth had criticized Musk’s showing up to the cave site with a mini-submarine as a “PR stunt,” and said that the mini-submarine “had absolutely no chance of working” to save the boys. Unsworth’s complaint alleged that Musk retaliated against this criticism with a series of defamatory tweets and a series of defamatory emails sent to a Buzzfeed News reporter.


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The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently dismissed a case against three media corporations – CNN, Rolling Stone, and HuffPost – and several employees of those corporations for publishing or broadcasting allegedly defamatory statements regarding Joseph Arpaio’s 2017 criminal contempt of court conviction.

Arpaio is no stranger to public controversy. While serving as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona from 1993 to 2017, Arpaio was often criticized for, among other things, his office’s policing tactics in Latino neighborhoods. In one lawsuit against him, Arpaio and his office were enjoined from detaining people “based only on knowledge or reasonable belief . . . that [they were] unlawfully present within the United States[.]” Arpaio ignored the court’s order and continued to engage in conduct that violated the injunction. In July 2017, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court (a misdemeanor) for willfully disobeying the injunction. In August 2017, President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio before he was sentenced. In January 2018, Arpaio then decided it was a good time to run for the U.S. Senate.

CNN, Rolling Stone, and HuffPost each published a story about Arpaio’s Senate run and colorful background. CNN anchor Chris Cuomo introduced a report about Arpaio’s Senate run and erroneously referred to him as a convicted felon. (The report itself correctly stated that Arpaio was convicted of a misdemeanor and provided context for the crime.) Rolling Stone published an article about Arpaio and erroneously referred to him as an “ex-felon.” HuffPost published an article about Arpaio and erroneously stated that Arpaio had spent time in prison for his contempt of court conviction. The three corporations corrected their statements when they learned of their errors.


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In an age where the luxurious lives of reality housewives populate millions of televisions throughout the country, the day-to-day activities of wealthy suburban moms are well known to Americans. Stephanie Smith, a wealthy mother of five young children living in the Pacific Palisades near the luxurious Los Angeles coastline, was one such woman. One noteworthy thing set Stephanie Smith apart, however – her multi-million-dollar marijuana empire.

Smith was a commercial real estate developer and landlord who leased her properties to marijuana growers. Those growers allegedly paid her more than three times the standard rent and produced tens of thousands of weed plants. On December 13, 2017, Smith’s weed-growing warehouses became public knowledge after police raided her home and discovered the plants.

Newspapers immediately picked up the story, calling Smith a “Queenpin” and her property “a weed fortress.” Smith v. Palisades, No. B292107 2019 WL 4744765 (Cal. Ct. App. Sept. 30, 2019) at *1. Palisades News, a local community newspaper, published an article stating that Smith was “busted” for running an illegal marijuana-growing operation of a size normally associated with a “drug lord” and that Smith made millions of dollars per month from the operation. Id. Three months after the raid, Smith sued Palisades News for defamation (libel), false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Smith v. Palisades News.


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On July 10, 2019, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed with prejudice a defamation and false light lawsuit filed by a dancer at a New Jersey Strip club against the New York Daily News, holding that the plaintiff had failed to plead actual malice with respect to her claims.

The case stemmed from a December 2017 Daily News article about the government-ordered closing of the strip club Satin Dolls, best known as a frequent filming location for a popular television series. The article noted that New Jersey state authorities had ordered the shutdown of Satin Dolls after accusing the club of engaging in illegal activity, such as alleged prostitution, lewd activity, racketeering, and extortion-related charges. The article was accompanied by a photograph of two Satin Dolls employees posing with merchandise related to the television series. One of the photographed employees, Diane LoMoro, subsequently sued the Daily News for defamation, claiming that the article falsely linked her to alleged criminal conduct; that the paper allegedly doctored the photo to make Ms. LoMoro appear “fatter, larger, uglier, blotchier, discolored, disproportionate, and grotesque”; and that the Daily News allegedly invaded Ms. LoMoro’s privacy by portraying her in a false light.


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On September 18, 2019, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal held in Hullick v. Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust Co. & Hayworth that a corporation’s board of directors’ discussions during a board meeting did not constitute defamation because the board’s intra-corporate communications were not “published” or communicated to a third party. Since the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United fortified the notion that corporations are people, the Florida Court of Appeal allows corporations to talk to themselves—without fear of defamation lawsuits.

Hullick v. Gibraltar Private Bank & Trust Co. & Hayworth is set against the backdrop of an allegedly well-documented $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme purportedly orchestrated by a prominent Florida lawyer (now disbarred and serving a 50-year sentence in federal prison).[1] Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust Company, one of the appellees (co-defendant below), was one of two banks where the lawyer allegedly laundered money.[2]


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The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a case against actor James Woods over a tweet he posted during the 2016 presidential campaign. Woods, an outspoken conservative, was sued by plaintiff Portia Boulger, who described herself in her complaint as “a very active volunteer and pledged convention delegate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.”

The case arose from inaccurate information shared on social media. On March 11, 2016, Donald Trump held a Republican primary campaign rally in Chicago. That evening, the Chicago Tribune posted a photograph on its Twitter account of a woman at the Trump rally giving a Nazi salute. The next day, a Twitter user posted the photograph, together with a separate photograph of Boulger, and a caption identifying Boulger as an organizer for Bernie Sanders. The Twitter user wrote (falsely) that “[t]he ‘Trump Nazi’ is Portia Boulger, who runs the Women for Bernie Sanders Twitter account. It’s another media plant.”


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Two federal courts recently dismissed defamation claims brought against the New York Times and the Kansas City Star, finding the subject articles employed standard investigative journalism techniques that immunized the newspapers from liability under state defamation laws.

In Croce v. New York Times Co., No. 18-4158 (6th Cir. July 17, 2019), the 6th Circuit upheld the dismissal of an Ohio State University cancer researcher’s defamation claim, finding that a “reasonable reader” would interpret the article as presenting both sides of the controversy.  The suit arose after the Times published an article examining Dr. Carlo Croce’s cancer research in the context of a broader piece about the inherent conflicts present when large research institutions reap millions of dollars in grant money for “star” researchers, and then are put in the position of investigating those researchers’ methods.
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