Dangerous Free Speech Ruling: Blogger Has To Pay In Libel Case... Despite Telling The Truth

from the going-to-be-overturned dept

In a ruling that almost certainly will get overturned, a blogger who was sued for libel, and showed that he had spoken truthfully, was still ordered to pay $60,000, in a highly questionable ruling that routed around basic defamation law by claiming the amount ($35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for "emotional distress") was due to "tortious interference" with employment. The case involved a blogger named John Hoff, who wrote a scathing blog post about Jerry Moore who was apparently involved in a high-profile mortgage fraud. That blog post generated attention and complaints to the University of Minnesota, who had recently hired Moore. The University fired Moore the next day. The lawsuit tried a few claims to get around various protections, including claiming that Hoff was liable for comments made by users by creating a "defamation zone." Thankfully, the court didn't buy into that (a ruling that never would have survived a Section 230 challenge), but apparently did buy into this crazy tortious interference claim. If telling the truth about someone gets them fired, then the issue should never be about the person who told the truth, but the person who did whatever they did to make the truth about them a fireable offense. There's an expectation that Hoff will appeal, and many believe this will be overturned on First Amendment grounds. That seems likely, but it's still a huge process, and in the meantime, this awful ruling stands.


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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    Normalization

    Obviously the court is trying to normalize our libel laws with those of the UK.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 8:16am

    Best and most important lines in the linked article:

    Don Allen was originally named as a co-defendant because he sent a letter to the U of M urging Moore's termination, then copied the letter to Hoff's blog. Before the case went to trial, he settled with Moore and testified against Hoff. Allen, who operates his own blog, "The Independent Business News Network," applauded the verdict.

    "It's unfortunate for all bloggers, but you have to have some sense of responsibility," he said. "You have to attack the issues, not the individuals."


    He has it right.

     

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      The eejit (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 8:33am

      Re:

      But, it was the truth. IF you cannot tell the truth without fearing financial sanction, then you're fucked. You might as well pick up Gaddafi and put him in charge of America.

       

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      Wiggs (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 8:38am

      Re:

      Wait, what?

      So this Dan Allen guy originally was in full agreement with Hoff. Enough so that he took the time and wrote a letter to U of M telling them that they should terminate the plaintiff based on the allegations, AND copied Hoff's blog on it, involving himself in the process and in the "libel".

      Then he settles with the plaintiff and does a complete-180 on his own positions, even going so far as to testify AGAINST the blogger?

      How does he "have it right"? He was originally *helping* to "attack" the individual! Where was his "sense of responsibility" when he was sending off letters to U of M and copying the blog?

      Makes me wonder what that settlement entailed. Hope he feels good selling out his right to free speech.

      In my opinion, this is the much more enlightening quote in that article:

      Jane Kirtley, a U of M professor of media law and ethics, called the lawsuit an example of "trash torts," in which someone unable to sue for libel, which by definition involves falsity, reaches for another legal claim. She predicted the verdict will be overturned.

      "This is based on expression, and expression enjoys First Amendment protection," Kirtley said. Just last week, she said, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the Westboro Baptist Church's antigay protests at military funerals.

      "I find it really hard to believe that there was a degree of emotional distress caused by this reporting that outstrips that suffered by [a Marine's] family," Kirtley said.

       

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      btr1701 (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:02am

      Re: Hypocrisy

      > He has it right.

      I don't know about that, but what's clear is that he's a spectacular hypocrite.

      He jumped on the bandwagon, wrote a letter to the university to try and get Moore fired, then switched sides when he got sued for it. Now it's suddenly all about attacking "issues, not individuals".

       

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    Larry Bodine, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 8:17am

    Where can I find the opinion?

    Hi - very valuable post. Can you tell us the case caption? Are any of the court documents online?
    Yours,
    Larry Bodine

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 9:13am

    The judge should be removed

    Judges who egregiously violate the constitution need to be removed from the bench. This isn't "interpretation"..... and constitution is VERY clear. "Shall make no law". This clearly abridges freedom of speech.

    This is judicial terrorism, pure and simple

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:36am

      Re: The judge should be removed

      Freedom of speech ends where it hurts other people's basic freedoms. It isn't an absolute.

      "Fire", anyone?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:50am

        Re: Re: The judge should be removed

        What freedom exists that prevents others from telling the truth about you?

        Be specific, TAM.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 11:11am

        Re: Re: The judge should be removed

        If their is a Fire, you can yell Fire.

         

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        hobo, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 12:11pm

        Re: Re: The judge should be removed

        You can shout, "fire," in a crowded place when there is a fire, and there shouldn't be legal repercussions.

         

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    Lester Hunt, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:00am

    This is Nuts

    How can something that is not otherwise tortious be a "tortious interference"? And how can the truth possibly be libelous??

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 12:43pm

      Re: This is Nuts

      I agree - to succeed with the tortious interference claim, the fact-finder must find (among other things) that the defendant intentionally and improperly interfered with a contractual relation. Courts have said that improper means are those that are independently wrongful such as threats or violence... Harman v. Heartland Food Co., 614 N.W.2d 236. I can't find the underlying wrongful conduct here. It doesnít even seem like he was encouraging the University to breach, only criticizing the hiring choice.

       

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    Berenerd (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:03am

    If this goes through...

    ..then we are all screwed because the AC Trolls will get us...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:06am

    i find it hard to believe his employment was terminated solely based on these 2 people's 'interference'. i'm an employee at the UofM, an IT. generally, you can terminate anyone's employment within usually a year for any reason other than something covered under EEOC. so maybe they didn't like the cut of his jib for whatever reason, it doesn't necessarily reflect on what this blog post said. the strib article never mentions the level of interference, just that a letter was written. was it read? who read it? and was that letter and blog post were cited as reasons for termination? (usually they have you say things like "you're just not a good fit for us.")

     

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    P3T3R5ON (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:26am

    Really?

    The fact that cases like this make it into our court system scare the crap out of me. Thank God for the appeals court otherwise we'd all be screwed when an idiotic complainent and an unwise judge meet the same court room.

     

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    ts, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 10:35am

    Next thing you know, criminals will be suing people for reporting them to the police. And they'll probably win.

     

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    spencermatthewp, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 11:29am

    Truth is not a defense for libel

    I don't know what decision, but I remember hearing some time ago that a court decided that truth is not a defense for libel. In other words using facts for the sole purpose of destroying the lively-hood or reputation of another person is still libel. Essentially it goes to intent.

    My guess is that the blogger exposed this information with the intent of destroying this person's career. That is, after all, how a modern journalist makes a name for his or her self. The more prominent the member of society the journalist takes down, the more advancement he or she will make.

    It would be interesting to see the facts of the case rather than simply saying this is a free speech issue. Yes, a person can say what ever you want, when ever he or she wants, where ever he or she wants. And yes a person should be able to do so. However, no one should be allowed to willfully and intentionally destroy another person's life. With great power comes great responsibility.

     

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      m, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 11:56am

      Re: Truth is not a defense for libel

      But is abandoning that "responsibility" a crime? Sure, in a perfect world, it would be an asshole thing to do. But you really want to prosecute someone for telling the truth? Who cares what his intentions are, hes telling the truth!

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 12:49pm

      Re: Truth is not a defense for libel

      Are you sure that case wasn't in the UK? Or awarding damages under a common law theory related to defamation? In the US , truth is a defense to defamation-intent is only relevant to prove actual malice, and that is only a factor once someone's "fame" has been determined.

       

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      The eejit (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 1:13pm

      Re: Truth is not a defense for libel

      That was British Homoeopathy Socioety V Singh, which was overturned on appeal.

       

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      Anonymous Howard, Cowering, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 4:43am

      Re: #20 Truth is not a defense for libel

      Ummm...

      Yes, it is. Look up the definitions for each.
      Libel requires defamation.
      Defamation requires false or unjustified.
      Truth excludes false.
      Q.E.D.

      Intent is mentioned only in your post...

       

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    Pickle Monger (profile), Mar 14th, 2011 @ 3:24pm

    Best analysis

    Looks like Wonkette had the best quote on this story saying:
    "Did they pull this jury from a crayon-eating convention or has it really gotten this bad?"

    http://wonkette.com/440546/vile-blogger-fined-60000-for-malicious-factually-accurate-reportin g

     

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