U.S. Court finds British libel ruling “repugnant” to U.S. law
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In late January a federal district court in Washington ruled that a British libel judgment was unenforceable in the United States.
In 1992, English citizen Vladimir Telnikoff sued Vladimir Matusevitch, a Russian Jewish immigrant to the United States, for libel in England after Matusevitch accused Telnikoff of antisemitism in a letter to the editor published in the London Daily Mirror. Telnikoff won more than $416,000 in damages, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Federal judge Ricardo M. Urbina held that the judgment was unenforceable in the United States because British libel standards were “repugnant” to the public policies of the United States and to the state of Maryland, where Matusevitch lives. The court ruled that recognition of the judgment would deprive Matusevitch of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The court noted that under British law, a libel defendant bears the burden of proving the alleged defamatory statements are true, while under U.S. law the plaintiff must prove that the statements are false.
The court also explained that in Britain, public figure plaintiffs are not required to prove malice. The court found that under U.S. law, Telnikoff, a prominent activist for human rights in the Soviet Union since 1955, was a “limited public figure,” and thus would be required to prove actual malice to prevail in a libel action in the United States. (Matusevitch v. Telnikoff; Counsel: Arnon D. Siegel, Washington, D.C.)