Court Upholds $60,000 Ruling Against Blogger... Even Though His Statements Were True
from the scary-stuff dept
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:
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.
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.