A Michigan State Court recently dismissed claims against Euclid Media Group, the parent company to several media properties, including Deadline Detroit, Inc. (“Deadline”), for publishing articles about a Plaintiff’s conduct at a Birmingham Public School Board of Education meeting. See Paul Marcum vs. Euclid Media Group, Docket No. 2022-191878-CZ (Mich. Cir. Ct. Jan. 4, 2022) (Dkt. 129) (“Order”).

On August 23, 2021, Deadline published an article, “Man Who Gave Nazi Salute at Birmingham Schools Meeting Loses Tennis Job” (the “Article”). The Article asserted that Plaintiff had gestured and uttered a Nazi salute toward two African American women and a Jewish woman who had voiced their support for a classroom mask mandate. The Article not only identified Plaintiff by name, but it also included his picture and stated Plaintiff had been “accused of flashing a Nazi salute and repeatedly chanting ‘Heil Hitler.’”

Continue Reading Truth Remains an Absolute Defense Against Defamation Claims

On June 3, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Arizona district court erred in dismissing a defamation suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The suit was brought by an attorney against three Catholic bishops and their respective dioceses located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio. See Burri L. PA v. Skurla, No. 21-15271, 2022 WL 1815827 (9th Cir. June 3, 2022).

According to the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants made defamatory statements about him to individuals in Arizona. Plaintiff alleged that these communications were designed to interfere with a contract that Plaintiff had with the Phoenix Eparchy in Arizona. Defendants also allegedly repeated these defamatory statements about Plaintiff at a meeting with multiple representatives from the Phoenix Eparchy, where they urged the Phoenix Eparchy to drop a prior action that Plaintiff had brought on behalf of the Phoenix Eparchy against Defendants in Arizona. Based on Defendants’ conduct and communications, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendants in Arizona for defamation and tortious interference.

Continue Reading Personal Jurisdiction and the Calder Effects Test: Ninth Circuit Sides with Florida Plaintiff in Defamation Suit Against Bishops

Two Illinois state courts recently dismissed defamation claims related to an online article and a disciplinary proceeding conducted by the Champaign Illinois Kennel Club.  Both courts found that the defendants were immunized because the statements in dispute were unactionable opinions and were protected under the innocent construction rule.  See Law Office of John S. Xydakis, P.C. v. Reiland, No. 2020 L 3990 (Ill. Cir. Ct. May 18, 2021); Boyd v. Crumpler, No. 2020-L-000201 (Ill. Cir. Ct. May 20, 2021).

The first suit, Law Office of John S. Xydakis, P.C. v. Reiland, arose from an article written by Jordyn Reiland and published by the. Reiland, slip op. at 1.  The report outlined Judge Margaret Ann Brennan’s remarkable imposition of a $1 million sanction against Marshall Spiegel and his lawyer, John Xydakis.  Id.  Judge Brennan issued the sanction pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137, which is designed to prevent and discourage the filing of frivolous and false lawsuits.  Id. at 1-2.  The Circuit Court of Cook County found that the legal news website could not be sued for allegedly defamatory statements that are reasonably interpreted as opinions.  Id. at 1.

Continue Reading Opinion Defense Dashes Two Recent Illinois State Court Defamation Decisions

On June 10, 2021, the Texas Court of Appeals held that a trial court had erred in denying motions to dismiss brought by KHOU-TV and the Houston Chronicle under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (the TCPA), the Texas anti-SLAPP statute.  The three-justice panel held that the plaintiff, Status Lounge, failed to show that the news outlets’ reports on a shooting at its bar were not substantially true. See KHOU-TV, Inc. v. Status Lounge Inc., No. 14-19-00393-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 4584 (Tex. App. June 10, 2021).

Police reports of the 2016 shooting described an altercation between the “owner” of the bar and a band member over the duration of the band’s performance. The police reports went on to say that the “manager” of the bar shot the band member and fled the scene. Both KHOU-TV and the Houston Chronicle published articles stating that the owner shot the band member. The KHOU-TV article also stated that the owner was taken into custody, while the police reports were silent on this matter. Status Lounge sued the media defendants for libel and business disparagement. Both outlets filed motions to dismiss under the TCPA.

Continue Reading You Can’t Handle the (Substantial) Truth: Texas Court Sides with Media Defendants in Libel Case

The Supreme Court of New York recently denied a motion to seal the record in the case of Choi v. Solomon, stating that “harsh words are not a basis to seal a case, especially where it appears both sides have no qualms about tearing each other down.”  Decision and Order on Motion at *4, Choi v. Solomon, No. 001-654666 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. November 6, 2020).

The case was brought by Yukyung Choi against Scott Solomon for ten different causes of action, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, and defamation.  Choi claims that from 2010 to 2019, she lived with Solomon in a platonic relationship, paying for their apartment without contribution from Solomon and supporting his “lavish personal expenses.”  Id. at *1.  The relationship eventually deteriorated and Choi sought to distance herself, and additional plaintiff Eric Reiner, from Solomon.

Continue Reading New York Supreme Court Upholds Presumption of Public Access to Judicial Proceedings

Well known for their highly publicized interactions with the legal system, Rose McGowan and her former defense attorney Jose Baez faced off this year over conflict of interest allegations in Baez v. McGowan, 2020 Ill. Cir. LEXIS 458 (2020).  Jose Baez is best known for his successful defense of Casey Anthony, a young woman tried for the murder of her two-year-old daughter in 2011, while actress, activist, and author Rose McGowan famously accused media producer Harvey Weinstein of raping her at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.  McGowan is widely considered to be a fervent #MeToo supporter and touts nearly two million followers across her Twitter and Instagram profiles.

McGowan first hired Baez as her trial attorney in 2018 after McGowan was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance in Virginia.  The prosecution alleged that McGowan concealed a baggie of cocaine in her wallet, which was discovered after she accidentally left it behind on an airplane.  Although McGowan theorized that Weinstein paid off airline staff to plant the cocaine as part of a conspiracy to silence his rape accusers, she ultimately agreed to a plea deal and did not present the Weinstein theory to the court.

Continue Reading Demonstrating the Strength of the “Opinion Defense,” Rose McGowan Defeats Defamation Suit

Lauded as the “the most important law protecting free speech”[1] and the law that “gave us the modern internet,”[2] Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (Section 230) has been a fixture of recent internet policy debates and blamed for everything from the proliferation of sex trafficking[3] to enabling anti-conservative social media bias[4].

Section 230 says, “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”[5]

Those 26 words shield online platforms from liability arising from hosting or making available third-party or user-generated content.[6] In other words, online platforms are considered intermediaries that cannot be legally liable for what users post on their platforms. However, Section 230 does not provide immunity to the actual creator of content. The author of a defamatory post could still be held responsible for any defamatory material they post.

Continue Reading Section 230 – Everything You Love and Hate About the Internet

The District of Columbia Circuit Court recently dismissed attorney John Szymkowicz’s defamation lawsuit against the author of the website “Legal Profession Blog,” finding that Szymkowicz failed to demonstrate that his potential damages met the $75,000 threshold required to establish federal jurisdiction.

In Szymkowicz v. Frisch, No. CV 19-3329 (BAH), 2020 WL 4432240 (D.D.C. July 31, 2020), Georgetown University Law Center professor Szymkowicz brought a claim for defamation, invasion of privacy—false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from posts by Frisch, which claimed he had committed elder abuse against a client. Szymkowicz alleged that the posts injured his personal and professional reputation, injured his standing in the community, cost him a loss of income and business opportunities, and prompted him to experience “mental anguish and personal humiliation.”
Continue Reading D.C. District Court Decries Vague Assertion of Damages

In a published opinion, the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a district court’s ruling that CBS News did not defame a pharmacist in its reporting on the opioid crisis, agreeing that the statements at issue were substantially true. See Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc., No. 18-2018 (4th Cir. Aug. 3, 2020).

The ruling protects CBS’s award-winning investigative reporting on the opioid crisis.  It also demonstrates the enduring need for defamation law’s “substantial truth doctrine,” which excuses minor factual inaccuracies as long as the substance, gist, or sting of the statement remains true.  See Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, 501 U.S. 496, 517 (1991).
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Rejects Pharmacist’s Opioid Defamation Claims Against CBS

California employers beware. In Tilkey v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. D074459 (Cal. Ct. App. Apr. 21, 2020) (Order), California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently affirmed a judgment on a theory of self-published defamation. In doing so, it held that the plaintiff, a former life insurance salesman for Allstate, was justly awarded damages based on his compulsion to recite the allegedly false allegations Allstate made for terminating his employment to prospective employers.
Continue Reading California Court Affirms Self-published Defamation Judgment