Court Upholds $60,000 Ruling Against Blogger... Even Though His Statements Were True

from the scary-stuff dept

One premise that has been a key element in protecting First Amendment rights in defamation cases is the idea that "truth is an absolute defense against defamation." You can't defame someone if you tell the truth about them. And yet, courts have been eating away at this concept. A few years ago, we wrote about a troubling appeals court ruling, that seemed to suggest that if there's "actual malice," in presenting information, even if it was truthful, there could still be a legal claim. Earlier this year, we heard of a similar case, in which a jury awarded a man $60,000 in damages after a blogger posted truthful information about him that indirectly resulted in the guy losing his job.

Unfortunately, while it had the opportunity to do so, the court has refused to set aside the jury's verdict. While the straight defamation claim failed, the guy, Jerry Moore, was able to get blogger John Hoff, under a claim of "tortious interference," because of the job loss.

But, as Eugene Volokh explains, this seems to totally ignore a ton of caselaw and the simple fact that there's nothing illegal in wanting to get someone fired, and revealing truthful information about them in order to do so:

As I wrote in March, people are constitutionally entitled to speak the truth about others, even with the goal of trying to get them fired. (The tort actually requires either knowledge that such a result is practically certain or a purpose of producing such a result, but I take it that here the allegation is that Hoff wanted Moore to get fired.) The First Amendment constrains the interference with business relations tort, just as it constrains the infliction of emotional distress and other torts. See NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982); Blatty v. New York Times Co. (Cal. 1986) (speech constitutionally protected against a libel claim is also protected against an interference with business relations claim); Paradise Hills Assocs. (Cal. Ct. App. 1991) (same); Delloma v. Consolidated Coal Co. (7th Cir. 1993) (“permitting recovery for tortious interference based on truthful statements would seem to raise significant First Amendment problems”); Jefferson Cty. Sch. Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody’s Investor’s Services (10th Cir. 1999) (holding that interference with business relations and interference with contract claims can’t be based on expressions of opinion). The same should apply to the closely related interference with contract tort. See, e.g., Jefferson Cty. Sch. Dist.

Perhaps because of this, the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 772(a) provides that, “One who intentionally causes a third person not to perform a contract or not to enter into a prospective contractual relation with another does not interfere improperly with the other’s contractual relation, by giving the third person ... truthful information.” See also, among many other cases, Walnut Street Assocs., Inc. v. Brokerage Concepts, Inc. (Pa. Super. 2009) (so holding); Recio v. Evers (Neb. 2009) (likewise). Minnesota seems to have accepted § 772(a) as well, see Glass Service Co. v. State Farm Ins. Co. (Minn. Ct. App. 1995); Fox Sports Net North, LLC v. Minnesota Twins Partnership (8th Cir. 2003). But even if Minnesota courts take the opposite view as a matter of state law, such a view would be preempted by the First Amendment.

Somewhat amazingly, it appears the court ignored both of those arguments, despite them each being raised by Hoff's lawyer in the motion to put aside the jury verdict as well as during the trial itself. It appears that Hoff will appeal, and hopefully the appeals court will recognize what a troubling ruling it is when you can get in legal hot water for actually telling the truth about someone.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 12:39pm

    Well the poor victim in this was involved with mortgages, obviously this is just helping that poor soul out.

    Special laws for bankers... how is this new?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    crade (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 12:42pm

    Good thing you posted this. I noticed a co-worker who is fudging the number on the company books and skimming money off the top and I was about to report them, you just saved me 60 grand!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:26pm

    Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    Using "teh internets" to spread it may strike a jury as unfair. My guess. Power cuts both ways.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    Sure, it can strike a jury any number of ways. The question continues to be: is it actually against the law?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    Well, then. I would say that CNN and Fox news better beware.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    Heck, they don't even get in trouble for telling bald face lies about people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    I don't think what they say is supposed to be taken as a factual statement though

     

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  8.  
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    mikey4001 (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:41pm

    Sounds like a good time to dump all of my E-Verify stock.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Simple Mind (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:43pm

    a jury of your peers?

    A jury came up with this verdict! I get chosen for jury duty often, but I have never been on a jury. Every time it gets to the QA part they find out I am capable of using logic and I am dismissed. "You must be one O them thar int-I-lectuals. Dismissed!"

     

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  10.  
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    Haggie, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:47pm

    So if someone testified in open court about my criminal activity and that testimony got me fired, I could sue that person for tortious interference?

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:55pm

    Politicians?

    "if there's "actual malice," in presenting information, even if it was truthful"

    Please tell me this applies to the upcoming Political ad campaigns.....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 1:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    No, no, they tell the truth. "Sources say:" and then they say what the sources said. These "truths" can have dire consequences to those the statements are about. And because it's coming from a big news source, far too many people take it as gospel.

    Using that, it's logical to conclude that if this guy is liable, then Fox News and CNN need to watch what they say.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    It is sad how easily people can be told what to believe. Check out this video if you are interested in Perception Management

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Jesse (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 2:32pm

    If the information was incorrect and he was fired for it, couldn't he sue for wrongful dismissal?

    If the information is true and he can legally be fired for it, then how can he sue the blogger when he can't sue the people who actually fired him?

    What's next, suing a witness for libel for testifying against you in court?

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 3:06pm

    Truth

    Truth and perceptions are two totally different things, duh? But, the courts actually upholding a decision against someone speaking the truth moves the issue into a gray area. And gray areas are just where the government likes things so they can tell you what the "truth" is. It's just one more way the American government is chipping away at that pesky thing called the Constitution and Bill of Right.

    OMG- Obama must go! Vote "NO" in 2012

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 3:08pm

    Surprised?

    It's just another step in taking away your liberties. Deal with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    taoareyou (profile), Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 3:58pm

    The Psychic Jury Knows

    They looked deep into his dark heart and there they found malice, festering like a boil, spewing vile truth upon those who do unsavory things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 6:16pm

    Thor: [waking up in the middle of nowhere] Oh, no... this is America... isn't it?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0800369/quotes

    ps: Never saw the movie, but since I was looking for "Thor quotes" because I was thinking about TOR to repel those nasty problems with governments that don't like transparency I found that one.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    IronM@sk, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 10:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Truth * Internet Amplification may equal too much.

    Really? I'm going to shave off my goatee right this minute if I will be afforded that level of protection.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 2nd, 2011 @ 11:22pm

    Re: Politicians?

    How could it? Political ads are rarely truthful.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    nasch (profile), Sep 3rd, 2011 @ 6:26pm

    Re: Truth

    OMG- Obama must go! Vote "NO" in 2012

    Why, was Obama one of the judges?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Joe Smith, Sep 4th, 2011 @ 5:26pm

    Privacy

    If the information that was disclosed was private and not job related there would be some justification for the verdict as an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Otherwise, difficult to see how the verdict could be justified.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    cjstg (profile), Sep 6th, 2011 @ 9:55am

    Re: Re: Truth

    did obama even appoint those judges? how about the jury?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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