Opinion defense

Smith v. The Humane Society

February 4, 2016

The Missouri Supreme Court is considering whether the Humane Society’s statements identifying a dog kennel as a “puppy mill” and one of the “worst puppy mills in Missouri” are protected under the First Amendment as non-actionable statements of opinion. The Humane Society made the statements during a political campaign urging Missouri voters to approve a statewide public referendum on the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.” The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s defamation and false light claims, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The Reporters Committee, with a coalition of 22 media organizations, filed an amicus brief with the Missouri Supreme Court. Amici urge the Court to find the statements are constitutionally protected opinion and affirm the trial court’s dismissal because the Humane Society’s statements are based on disclosed, truthful facts and are core political speech.

Angel v. Winograd

December 21, 2015

Marcy Winograd appealed a California Superior Court’s denial of her anti-SLAPP motion after being sued for allegedly defaming a local petting zoo by writing online articles and publicly protesting what she believed were inhumane conditions at the zoo. The Superior Court found evidence establishing actual malice based on the fact animal control officers found no violations after investigating the zoo and Winograd continued objecting to the zoo conditions, relying on her own personal observations and information from two trusted sources. In an amicus brief, the Reporters Committee and five other media organizations urge the California Court of Appeal to reverse the Superior Court’s unprecedented interpretation of the actual malice standard.

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.

Neumann v. Liles

September 24, 2014

Proprietors of Dancing Deer Mountain, a wedding venue in Oregon, sued a Google reviewer, Christopher Liles, for libel following his negative review of his experience at a wedding there. The Oregon Court of Appeals held that some of the defendant's statements were actionable, such as calling the plaintiff "rude" and "crooked," while the defendant argued that those were non-actionable statements of opinion. This filing was asking the Oregon Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decisions. The Reporters Committee argued that the Oregon Supreme Court should accept the defendants Petition for Review because of the importance of clarifying what non-actionable opinion is in the state. The Court of Appeals decisions created confusion as to what may be stated in an online review and what will expose a commenter to liability. Such confusion could limit free speech and have serious consequences for public debate.

Adelson v. Harris

May 7, 2014

The Reporters Committee joined a brief opposing an appeal by casino owner Sheldon Adelson in his libel suit against the National Jewish Democratic Council. The case had been dismissed under the Nevada anti-SLAPP statute and as non-actionable opinion based on hyperlinked sources. NJDC had published a petition on its website entitled “Tell Romney to Reject Adelson’s Dirty Money,” which alleged Adelson had personally approved a prostitution plan in his Macao casino.

Scholz v. Boston Herald

May 1, 2014

Tom Scholz, founder of the band Boston, sued the Boston Herald for libel over a series of stories that discussed motivating factors that may have led fellow band member Brad Delp to take his own life. The Reporters Committee and 25 other media organizations argued the Herald's statements were protected opinion because the Herald disclosed truthful facts that formed the basis of the statements, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions from the facts presented, and because the Herald's conjecture as to why Delp may have taken his own life cannot be proven false and therefore cannot be actionable. The brief noted that offering analysis and speculation is an important part of journalism that contributes to a robust public discourse on matters of public importance, and the court must allow this type of speech to continue unhindered.

New York appellate court allows blogger to remain anonymous, dismisses defamation claim

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | January 8, 2014
January 8, 2014

A New York appellate court ruled that a blogger may remain anonymous, thereby preventing a political candidate from bringing a defamation suit against him or her.

The blogger, known as “Q-Tip,” wrote an article titled “Would You Buy A Used Car From These Men?,” which said the candidates “think you aren’t smart enough to see past the lies and downright criminal actions taken by their backers, the Croton Republican Committee.”

The court held on Dec. 26 that a reasonable reader, given the context of the blog and the contentious election, would conclude these statements reflected the blogger’s opinion, not fact.

Newspaper's statements about school principal are opinion and not defamatory, N.Y. judge rules

Lilly Chapa | Libel | News | May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013

Articles published by the New York Daily News calling a former school principal a “firebrand” and a “principal of hate” are not defamatory because the statements are opinions, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled last week. The Supreme Court is the trial-level court in New York.

Rhode Island Supreme Court dismisses defamation complaint against reporter, talk radio host

Raymond Baldino | Libel | News | July 9, 2012
July 9, 2012

The Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a defamation claim brought by a restaurant owner against two journalists for their coverage of a 2009 "off the record" event at his restaurant where attendees included politicians, businesspeople and press members.

New York court finds scientific hypotheses are not libelous

Raymond Baldino | Libel | News | May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012

A federal court in Buffalo said last week that peer-reviewed journals, not courtrooms, are the proper place to vet scientific disputes. A libel claim brought by ONY, Inc., against the Journal of Perinatology for a negative study of an ONY pharmaceutical product was dismissed.