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.

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.

Supplemental testimony re: SPEAK FREE Act, H.R. 2304

August 10, 2016

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown submitted supplemental testimony to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, explaining the Constitutional authority for enacting the federal anti-SLAPP bill. Specifically, the testimony details how Congress is authorized to enact the SPEAK FREE Act under the Commerce Clause and is authorized to include a broad removal provision under Article III.

Larson v. Gannett Co., Inc.

June 29, 2016

Ryan Larson sued Gannett Company, Inc., for defamation in Minnesota after a local television station and newspaper reported on the police investigation into the killing of a police officer. After the officer's death, law enforcement officials held a news conference and issued a press release stating they had arrested Larson in connection with the death. Journalists from KARE 11 and the St. Cloud Times reported on Larson's arrest. Police later cleared Larson as a suspect. The trial court denied Gannett's motion for summary judgment that asserted the statements were protected under the fair report privilege. Gannett appealed for discretionary review to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Reporters Committee filed a request to participate as amicus curiae in support of Gannett's petition for discretionary review.

Federal anti-SLAPP bill is focus of House hearing

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Libel | News | June 23, 2016
News
June 23, 2016

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) bill, which would combat lawsuits filed to intimidate exercise of free speech.

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 2304, the SPEAK FREE Act, last summer and the bill was referred to the subcommittee on June 1, 2015. Similar to anti-SLAPP laws passed at the state level, the proposed legislation would amend the federal judicial code to allow defendants speaking out about official proceedings or matters of public concern a special motion to dismiss the case early in litigation as well as a stay on discovery in order to combat SLAPPs.

Testimony of Bruce Brown before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice re: Speak Free Act, H.R. 2304

June 22, 2016

In testimony prepared for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown tells lawmakers that the time has come to enact a federal anti-SLAPP law.