Simmons v. American Media, Inc., et al.

July 30, 2018

The Reporters Committee and five media organizations filed an amicus brief in the California Court of Appeal in support of American Media, Inc. and the other respondents in a case brought by Richard Simmons. Simmons claimed that the respondents defamed him by publishing an article that falsely identified him as transgender. The trial court held that identifying someone as transgender is not defamatory per se, and Simmons appealed.

Two courts reaffirm protections for opinions based on disclosed facts

Michael Lambert | Libel | News | December 3, 2015
December 3, 2015

Determining whether a statement is a fact or opinion can make or break a defamation claim. Recently, two courts — the high court in Massachusetts and a federal district court in Virginia — dismissed defamation suits after ruling the statements were opinions based on facts disclosed by the journalist, reminding reporters to support their opinions with facts to limit liability.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held articles published by the Boston Herald regarding the suicide of Brad Delp, the lead singer of the rock band Boston, were protected as opinion, ending a five-year court battle.

District court rules that Texas anti-SLAPP law applies in federal court

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Libel | News | June 18, 2014
June 18, 2014

A U.S. District Court in Texas ruled that Texas’ anti-SLAPP law applies in federal courts and then dismissed a defamation claim under that statute.

The district court judge ruled on June 11 that defendants, broadcast companies operating under the name KRIS Communications, could apply the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) to a lawsuit brought by Christopher Williams.

The news organizations released stories on Williams, a teacher accused of criminal acts of a sexual nature with students in several schools. Williams sued for defamation, so the defendants moved to dismiss the case under the TCPA.

District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the TCPA did apply to the broadcasters and further ruled that the TCPA can be used in federal courts.

Sixth Circuit: not liable for user's posts, even when commentary added

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | June 17, 2014
June 17, 2014

Nik Richie, operator of the website, cannot be held liable for potentially defamatory remarks made by a third-party poster on his website, according to a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling released Monday.

The court reversed a district court ruling that held Richie could be liable because he “encouraged” defamatory statements and then “adopted” the statements by adding his own comments to the posts.

The court describes as “a user-generated, online tabloid” where users can post gossip about anyone, often private individuals.

New York court adopts standard for defamation by implication

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Libel | News | May 30, 2014
May 30, 2014

A New York appellate court unanimously upheld a decision protecting a writer of Barron’s, a financial publication run by Dow Jones & Company, against defamation by implication and adopted a new standard for determining when implied facts can be defamatory.

Plaintiff Maxim A. Stepanov, founder of Midland Consult Ltd. and a former Russian diplomat, asserted that statements in Barron’s article, “Crime and Punishment in Putin’s Russia,” were defamatory by implication, meaning they did not directly state falsehoods but implied them.

Stepanov argued that the article implied his company associated with shell companies, drug cartels and weapons dealers, while falsely implying he was a diplomat under Vladimir Putin when he only served under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.

D.C. high court allows immediate appeal of denial of anti-SLAPP motion

Kevin Delaney | Libel | News | May 30, 2014
May 30, 2014

The District of Columbia's high court ruled Thursday that denials of anti-SLAPP motions to quash are immediately appealable, reversing a lower court order that would have forced Wikipedia to disclose data revealing the identity of an anonymous poster to the company’s site.

The case started after Susan L. Burke, a prominent human-rights attorney, filed a lawsuit claiming several anonymous defendants conspired to defame her by making changes to a Wikipedia page devoted to her legal work. Burke requested Wikipedia’s user data in an attempt to uncover the posters’ true identities.

Texas Supreme Court: Corporations may suffer reputational damage

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | May 12, 2014
May 12, 2014

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that corporations – and not just individuals – may recover for reputational damage in defamation lawsuits.

Typically, defendants have to prove specific financial damage resulting from the defamatory statements, unless the type of defamation is considered “defamation per se,” in which case damages are presumed. One category of statements that are often considered defamatory per se are statements attacking a person’s job-related abilities or professional stature.

In Waste Management of Texas, Inc. v. Texas Disposal Systems Landfill, Inc., two companies competed for waste-disposal and landfill contracts with city governments. One company allegedly distributed an anonymous communication claiming the other company engaged in environmentally harmful behavior.

Blogger Roger Shuler released after five months in jail

Michael Rooney | Prior Restraints | News | April 2, 2014
April 2, 2014

Alabama blogger Roger Shuler was released from a Shelby County, Ala. jail on March 26, more than five months after he was imprisoned on contempt charges for refusing to comply with a court order to take down allegedly defamatory articles.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued in an October letter that the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint. Shuler had written a series of posts on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, claiming that Robert Riley, Jr., son of former Alabama governor Bob Riley and potential candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant U.S. House of Representatives seat, had an affair with and impregnated lobbyist Liberty Duke.

Ohio Attorney General argues against state election-related speech law in U.S. Supreme Court

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | March 5, 2014
March 5, 2014

The Ohio Attorney General argued against its own election-related speech law in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

In Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether two organizations can challenge an Ohio law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements about a candidate for office or ballot proposition.

Rather than defend the law, the Ohio Attorney General admitted it “raise[s] a number of potential constitutional issues.”

Defamation verdict in Air Wisconsin case vacated by Supreme Court

Michael Rooney | Libel | News | January 27, 2014
January 27, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled today in Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper that airlines cannot be held liable for reporting safety threats to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if the report was essentially true, even if some details were false. The Court held that airlines would not be stripped of the statutory immunity from civil suits under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) for reporting such safety threats.