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.

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Comments on “Court Upholds $60,000 Ruling Against Blogger… Even Though His Statements Were True”

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Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

NullOp says:


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

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