Libel

This section covers the state law governing libel suits. The standards governing such suits are influenced by many things, including whether the subject of a story is a public figure or public official. This also covers the defenses to libel suits, including the "fair report" privilege, the opinion defense and anti-SLAPP laws.

Kent v. Hennelly

December 5, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 33 media organizations filed an amicus brief in Kent v. Hennelly, a case before the Sixth Circuit. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Tennessee against a South Carolina-based defendant, alleging that the defendant's online comments made on Facebook were defamatory. The district court dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The amicus brief argues that the Sixth Circuit should affirm the district court and hold that courts cannot assert personal jurisdiction over defamation defendants solely because public comments they made over the internet are available in the forum state. The mere availability of comments online does is not enough to provide jurisdiction, and could subject journalists and news organizations who publish content online to jurisdiction in every state.

 

Van Dyke v. Retzlaff

November 28, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 39 media organizations filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit in Van Dyke v. Retzlaff.  The defendant appealed to the Fifth Circuit after the district court denied his TCPA motion to dismiss, holding that the TCPA does not apply in federal court. The amicus brief argues that the TCPA, like other state anti-SLAPP statutes, should apply in federal court because it provides substantive protections for First Amendment freedoms, including those of media organizations retaliated against for reporting on matters of public concern.  Attorneys from Vinson & Elkins LLP served as local counsel on the amicus brief.

 

Rudkin v. Roger Beasley Imports, Inc.

September 5, 2018

The Reporters Committee and 39 media organizations filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit in Rudkin v. Roger Beasley Imports, Inc.  An employer moved to dismiss invasion of privacy claims by a former employee under the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act, but the district court held that the TCPA does not apply in federal court. The amicus brief argues that the TCPA, like other state anti-SLAPP statutes, should apply in federal court because it provides substantive protections for First Amendment freedoms, including those of media organizations retaliated against for reporting on matters of public concern.  Attorneys from Vinson & Elkins LLP served as local counsel on the amicus brief.

 

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.

Desmond v. News & Observer

May 21, 2018

The Reporters Committee and a media coalition filed an amicus brief in the North Carolina Court of Appeals in support of the News & Observer's appeal of a $6 million libel verdict. RCFP's brief focuses on the application of the actual malice standard, arguing that requiring proof of actual malice is essential to protecting First Amendment rights and preventing a chilling effect on speech on matters of public concern. The brief also argues that the plaintiff, a public official, did not meet the high burden of proving actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.

Friedman v. Bloomberg L.P.

October 3, 2017

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 22 media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Bloomberg L.P.'s petition for rehearing before the Second Circuit.  Plaintiff Dan Friedman sued Bloomberg for defamation after Bloomberg News published an article about a lawsuit Friedman filed against his former employer, Palladyne International Asset Management B.V.  The article included a quote from Palladyne about the merits of Friedman's lawsuit that Friedman alleges was defamatory.  The district court granted Bloomberg's motion to dismiss, and the Second Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The amicus brief supports Bloomberg's argument that the Second Circuit should rehear the case and affirm the dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that the allegedly defamatory statement is protected by New York's fair report privilege, New York Civil Rights Law § 74.

Hassell v. Bird

April 17, 2017

In an appeal to the California Supreme Court, Yelp challenged a decision finding that it had to obey an injunction requiring the removal of content that had been adjudicated as libelous. Yelp had argued that it should not be subject to the order since it did not have an opportunity to defend the posts. On appeal, amici emphasized that the implications of that ruling extend beyond Yelp and that the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeal undermine the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. If the Court of Appeal's decision is permitted to stand, Internet platforms that provide space for comment and discussion, like many news media websites, will effectively see their First Amendment interests in their forums curtailed without an opportunity to object, undermining the vitality of such forums as a place for the public to debate issues.

Montgomery v. Risen

April 3, 2017

Defendant-Appellee James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is author of Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, And Endless War, a political critique about the United States government’s response to the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Plaintiff-Appellant Dennis Montgomery sued Risen and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing for statements made about him in the book, which suggest he is a "con artist" and "fake" who perpetuated “one of the most elaborate and dangerous hoaxes in American history” by convincing the government he developed software that could track hidden messages from terrorists in Al Jazeera broadcasts. Montgomery lost on summary judgment after the court found that he was a limited purpose public figure and that most of the statements at issue in the case amounted to opinion that is not actionable under the First Amendment.

Steinmetz v. Coyle & Caron Inc.

January 24, 2017

John and Jane Steinmetz filed a defamation lawsuit against a landscaping design company, after an argument following a government body's rejection of the Steinmetz's construction plans. The defendant moved to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, but the plaintiffs argued that the statute did not apply in federal court and was an unconstitutional denial of a jury trial under the 7th Amendment. The district court dismissed the suit. On appeal, the Reporters Committee and Harvard Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit. The brief focuses on the history and public policy of anti-SLAPP legislation and how these statutes are necessary for a healthy press.

Resolute Forest Products, Inc. v. Greenpeace

September 16, 2016

Resolute sued Greenpeace in federal court in Georgia (S.D. Ga., Augusta division) for counts including five separate racketeering violations, defamation, tortious interference with business relations, and trademark dilution. Greenpeace filed motions to dismiss and to strike in early September, emphasizing the application of Georgia's amended anti-SLAPP statute in federal court and Resolute's attempt to "masquerade" what is really a defamation claim as a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"). The Reporters Committee and other amici argued first that Resolute cannot be permitted to circumvent the First Amendment by disguising a defamation claim as a RICO violation. Resolute attempted to silence and penalize speech about a matter of public concern, which, if upheld, would undoubtedly cause a chilling effect on speech.