Justia Communications Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Cottrell v. Smith
Plaintiff Stanley Cottrell, Jr. appealed the grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”) and earlier grants of directed verdicts in this action alleging defamation and related torts, and potentially implicating the constitutionality of portions of the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act (“GCSPA”) in favor of five defendants: Glenn and Marian Crocker (“Crockers”), Hugh Johnson (“Johnson”), Peggy Smith (“Peggy”), and Karen Smith (“Karen”). This matter arose out of some online postings and other communications by Defendants about Cottrell. For a number of years, Cottrell participated in a number of solo running exhibitions with a Christian evangelical emphasis, some of which have been portrayed in the media, and was subsequently involved in various multi-level marketing endeavors, executive leadership positions, and motivational speaking. Cottrell’s notoriety grew along with media controversy relating to his character, which questioned the authenticity and integrity of his claims and achievements. The Crockers worked for Cottrell planning two running exhibitions; Johnson was a long-time friend of Cottrell’s who came to know some women with whom Cottrell was involved outside of his marriage; Peggy is one of the women with whom Cottrell had an extra-marital affair; and Karen is Peggy’s daughter-in-law. Karen located and contacted several people she believed had information about Cottrell, including the Crockers and Johnson. Karen and her husband created a “WordPress” blog and posted stories based on this information, which portrayed Cottrell as having a long history of misrepresentation and deception for personal gain. Karen sent emails to a “list serve” group criticizing Cottrell and sharing links to the Blog posts, and Peggy sent messages to multiple Cottrell Facebook “friends” along the same lines. Cottrell sued, primarily alleging defamation and several associated claims (invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the GCSPA). After review of Cottrell's arguments on appeal of the JNOV, the Supreme Court concluded JNOV was indeed warranted in this case, and affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Cottrell v. Smith" on Justia Law
In Re: Nickleodeon Consumer Privacy Litig.
The district court dismissed a consolidated class action in which plaintiffs, children younger than 13, alleged that Viacom and Google unlawfully collected personal information about them on the Internet, including what webpages they visited and what videos they watched on Viacom’s websites. The claims alleged invasion of privacy under New Jersey law and cited the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 2710 which prohibits the disclosure of personally identifying information relating to viewers’ consumption of video-related services. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, holding that the Act permits plaintiffs to sue only a person who discloses such information, not a person who receives such information, and that the prohibition on the disclosure of personally identifiable information applies only to the kind of information that would readily permit an ordinary person to identify a specific individual’s video-watching behavior, so that digital identifiers, like IP addresses, fall outside the Act. The court vacated dismissal of a claim of intrusion upon seclusion that alleged that Viacom explicitly promised not to collect any personal information about children who browsed its websites and then did so. The 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 6501,authorizing the FTC to regulate websites that target children, does not preempt the state-law privacy claim. View "In Re: Nickleodeon Consumer Privacy Litig." on Justia Law
Hassell v. Bird
Attorney Hassell obtained a judgment holding Bird liable for defamation and requiring her to remove defamatory reviews she posted about Hassell on Yelp.com. The judgment contained an order requiring Yelp to remove Bird’s defamatory reviews from its site. Yelp, who was not a party in the defamation action, moved to vacate the judgment. The court of appeal affirmed denial of that motion, but remanded. The court concluded that Yelp is not “aggrieved” by the defamation judgment against Bird, but is “aggrieved” by the removal order; Yelp’s motion to vacate was not cognizable under Code of Civil Procedure section 6632; Yelp has standing to challenge the validity of the removal order as an “aggrieved party,” having brought a nonstatutory motion to vacate; Yelp’s due process rights were not violated by its lack of prior notice and a hearing on the removal order request; the removal order does not violate Yelp’s First Amendment rights to the extent that it requires Yelp to remove Bird’s defamatory reviews; to the extent it purports to cover statements other than Bird’s defamatory reviews, the removal order is an overbroad unconstitutional prior restraint on speech; and Yelp’s immunity from suit under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. 230, does not extend to the removal order. View "Hassell v. Bird" on Justia Law
Kinda v. Carpenter
After defendant bought the commercial building housing plaintiffs‘ rug cleaning business, disputes developed. The tenants complained that landlords behavior interfered with their business operations and amounted to a campaign of harassment and retaliation. The tenant obtained a preliminary injunction, enjoining landlord‘s construction activities exceeding a stated decibel level during business hours. Three consumer reviews criticizing tenant’s business subsequently appeared on the Internet site Yelp.com posted from different online aliases. Tenant suspected landlord was responsible and amended the complaint to allege defamation. Landlord successfully moved in limine to exclude the evidence related to the Yelp reviews on hearsay and authenticity grounds. The trial court later granted landlord a directed verdict on the defamation cause of action. A jury found that, although landlord had breached the lease agreement, no damages resulted. The trial court deemed landlord the prevailing party and granted his request for attorney‘s fees. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the exclusion of the Yelp evidence and the resulting disposition of the defamation cause of action was error and it is not clear that the outcome on the contract-based causes of action would have remained unaffected by the presentation of evidence on the alleged defamation. View "Kinda v. Carpenter" on Justia Law
Block v. New York Times Co.
This case arose from a New York Times article about Senator Rand Paul, which briefly quotes Walter Block, an economics professor. Block filed suit against defendants asserting claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. Although Block does not dispute that he made the statements at issue, he argues that the article takes the statements so far out of context as to make them untrue and defamatory. The district court granted a special motion to strike under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 971 (anti-SLAPP law), dismissed the complaint, and awarded defendants attorney's fees. In Lozovyy v. Kurtz, the court interpreted Louisiana law and concluded that “the Louisiana Supreme Court would recognize that Article 971’s ‘probability of success’ standard does not permit courts to weigh evidence, assess credibility, or resolve disputed issues of material fact.” Because the district court lacked the benefit of the court's recent guidance in Lozovyy, the court vacated and remanded for the district court to apply the standard. On remand, the district court should consider whether Block has established a genuine dispute of material fact on each element of his claims. View "Block v. New York Times Co." on Justia Law
Biro v. Conde Nast
Peter Paul Biro, a controversial figure known in the art world for using fingerprint analysis to authenticate art in an effort to insert a measure of objectivity into a previously subjective process, filed suit against the New Yorker defendants as well as republishers for defamation after an article was published about him. Among other things, the article contained interviews of various individuals critical of plaintiff, and it suggested that he stood to profit from some of his more dubious authentications. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court held that Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a limited‐purpose public figure to plead in a plausible way that defendants acted with actual malice. In this case, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to plausibly allege that defendants acted with actual malice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Biro v. Conde Nast" on Justia Law
Joseph v. Scranton Times
This matter arose from a series of articles written by James Conmy and Edward Lewis which appeared from June 1 to October 10, 2001, in the Citizens’ Voice, a newspaper in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area owned by The Scranton Times L.P. The articles reported about the existence of a federal criminal investigation into the alleged ties of William D’Elia, the reputed head of the Bufalino crime family of northeastern Pennsylvania, and Thomas A. Joseph, Sr. to organized crime activities. The articles included information related to, inter alia, the May 31, 2001, execution of search warrants by a large contingent of federal agents and state troopers at the residence of Joseph, Sr., the office of Joseph, Sr.’s business, Acumark, Inc., the residence of Samuel Marranca, the residence of Jeanne Stanton, and the residence of D’Elia. Defendants The Scranton Times L.P., The Times Partner, Conmy, and Lewis appealed a superior court order which affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County and granted appellees Thomas A. Joseph, Thomas J. Joseph, Acumark, Inc., and Airport Limousine and Taxi Service, Inc. a new trial. After careful consideration of the parties' arguments on appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the superior court erred in granting Appellees a new trial, and therefore, reversed. View "Joseph v. Scranton Times" on Justia Law
Long v. Insight Commc’ns of Cent. Ohio, LLC
Plaintiffs received internet and cable services from TWC in Chardon, Ohio. The Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), conducting an online investigation to identify individuals possessing and sharing child pornography, located a suspect using a public IP address of 18.104.22.168 and found images and movie files titled consistent with child pornography. The IP address of plaintiffs’ computers was 22.214.171.124. Responding to a subpoena for subscriber information for the .170 address, TWC indicated that it was assigned to plaintiffs. While executing a search warrant for plaintiffs’ residence, BCI agents determined that the IP address assigned to plaintiffs was the .70 address, not the .170 address. The search was terminated without discovery of any evidence of criminal activity. Plaintiffs alleged that the search was extensive, destructive, and in plain sight of neighbors; that TWC’s conduct was intentional and fraudulent; that disclosure of their subscriber information without authorization violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2707(a)); and state-law claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of TWC’s claim of immunity under section 2703(e), but found that 18 U.S.C. 2707(e)’s “good faith reliance” defense barred the claims and that the state-law claims failed because the factual allegations were insufficient to establish that TWC disclosed the information intentionally, wrongfully, or in breach of contract. View "Long v. Insight Commc'ns of Cent. Ohio, LLC" on Justia Law
Bikkina v. Mahadevan
While Bikkina was in a Ph.D. program at the University of Tulsa, Mahadevan, Bikkina’s first dissertation advisor and supervisor, repeatedly charged that Bikkina falsified data in published papers and plagiarized Mahadevan’s work. In each case, the University found no wrong doing by Bikkina, but that Mahadevan had violated the University‘s harassment policies. Bikkina completed his Ph.D. and began working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Mahadevan contacted Bikkina‘s superiors to state that Bikkina had falsified data, then made a presentation at LBNL and told Bikkina‘s colleagues that Bikkina had published a paper using false data., Bikkina filed a complaint for damages against Mahadevan, who filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. Mahadevan argued that Bikkina improperly sought to chill public discourse on carbon sequestration and its impacts on global warming. Mahadevan asserted that his statements concerned important public issues and constituted protected speech. The court of appeal affirmed denial of the motion, finding that Mahadevan had not engated in protected conduct, even if the conduct arose from protected activity, Bikkina’s claims have sufficient merit to survive a motion to strike. View "Bikkina v. Mahadevan" on Justia Law
Barker v. Fox & Assocs.
Allison, an elderly woman, suffering from dementia, had two daughters. For several years, a team of paid caregivers, consisting of personal friends, tended to Allison, including Barker. A rift developed between Allison’s daughters, and Wagner was appointed conservator of the person and estate of Allison. Wagner made changes to Allison’s care, began paying caregivers legitimately and reporting their wages as employees, and hired Fox, a registered nurse, as Allison’s case manager. Fox determined that Allison required nursing oversight, as none of the caregivers had any background or training in nursing or home healthcare. While being tended to by Newell, an employee of Fox, Allison “became combative and a quarrel resulted,” causing injuries to Allison. A series of emails followed, some critical of those involved in caregiving, and Barker was eventually terminated as a caregiver. Barker sued for defamation and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Fox and Wagner filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to dismiss. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeal reversed, holding that Barker had not met his burden to show that his complaint was legally sufficient and supported by a sufficient prima facie showing to support a favorable judgment. View "Barker v. Fox & Assocs." on Justia Law