Florida: “someone set up a handful of social media accounts criticizing the City of Coral Gables for its use of private security guards. … So in late May, deputy city attorney Miriam Ramos fired off two cease-and-desist letters and sent them to Silicon Valley, threatening to fine Facebook and Instagram $500 a day if they didn’t remove the posts, which Ramos said infringed on the city’s trademarks. Now, the city is suing Mark Zuckerberg’s multibillion-dollar businesses in an attempt to get the name, phone number, and address of whoever ‘cast the city in a false light.'” While cities can own trademarks, as in the slogans and logos used in marketing campaigns, courts are likely to accord broad recognition to fair use of those marks in discussions of civic affairs. Can cities sue over false light at all? [Jessica Lipscomb, Miami New Times; Lance Dixon/Miami Herald]
The Florida high court has rejected the invasion-of-privacy tort theory under which a defendant can be held liable for a publication setting forth individually true facts which collectively create a misleading impression. We’ve extensively covered one of the two lawsuits on which the court ruled, in which famed attorney Willie Gary obtained an $18 million jury verdict against Gannett for investigative journalism it perpetrated against one of his clients. An appeals court later threw out the verdict. (WSJ law blog, Pensacola News-Journal, St. Petersburg Times editorial).
However, Marc Randazza at Citizen Media Law Blog (Oct. 24), analyzing the second of the two Florida cases, Rapp v. Jews for Jesus, warns that the decisions fell far short of being the free speech victories some have taken them as, because the Florida court endorsed and strengthened theories of “defamation by implication” which will usually be available in suing over the same fact patterns, the difference being that suits alleging “defamation by implication” must overcome more robust First Amendment defenses. Similarly: Elizabeth Spainhour, Newsroom Law Blog, Oct. 24.
- UK: Paramedic twists ankle on steps responding to emergency call, plans to sue elderly couple [Daily Mail]
- Critics say litigiousness is part of the business plan for rental outfit Leasecomm, which has sued its customers more than 92,000 times [Boston Globe, Daily News Transcript]
- Great big predators of the alternative press? Jury awards $15 million against SF Weekly to its main competitor, Bay Guardian [SF Chronicle]
- Tacoma public schools sued after mentally ill student brings gun to school and kills classmate [KOMO]
- How the parties traded positions with each other on trade [Gordon, Commentary]
- Now Canada has its own “human rights” complaint against plastic surgeon who declines to undertake transgender-related surgery [Steyn, Macleans; earlier Catholic hospital case from California]
- Florida Supreme Court hears appeal of Joe Anderson $18 million “false light” defamation verdict against Gannett’s Pensacola News-Journal [WSJ law blog; earlier]
- Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman keeps suing bloggers and dragging websites before those Canadian hate-speech tribunals, so no criticizing him please [Levant, Five Feet of Fury (& more), Steyn]
- Discontent continues over judges’ standardless discretion in granting alimony awards [NLJ]
- Death of widow Alice Lawrence isn’t expected to end her litigation with law firm Graubard Miller over contingency fee [NYLJ; earlier]
- Labor arbitrator tells Florida school to rehire employee who reported to work with cocaine in his system [six years ago on Overlawyered]
Two of my least favorite things—misogynistic frat-boys and frivolous lawsuits—together at once. Three Chi Psi fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina, after signing waivers and getting paid $200, got caught drunkenly wishing for slaves and making other obnoxious sexist and racist remarks on film to Sasha Baron Cohen in his character of Kazakh journalist Borat; those scenes appeared in the movie. They’re now suing, wanting takebacks. TMZ has the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, which asks for an injunction, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. (I look forward to the discovery on the “false light” claims that suggest that the plaintiffs never would say such things as they were recorded being said.) Earlier, a friend of one of the frat boys asked Metafilter for advice. The complaint is filed by John Does, but Chi Psi David Corcoran has already bragged about the experience to FHM. Frat president Todd Bailey talks about the story to the local paper.
(Update: Upon further review, I see that the complaint alleges that the movie “falsely depicted them as insensitive to minorities.” There is no allegation that the movie falsely depicted them as insensitive to women. In the trade, that’s known as a negative pregnant.)
Once again, second thoughts prove unavailing after modesty is cast to the winds: “A magazine that published a photograph of a woman baring her breasts at a pig roast for motorcycle enthusiasts did not intrude on her privacy, a federal judge has ruled. Tonya Barnhart sued Paisano Publications LLC, publisher of Easyriders magazine, after it ran the picture of her in its March 2005 issue, claiming unreasonable intrusion, false light invasion of privacy and appropriation of her likeness.” But U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz of Maryland ruled against Barnhart on summary judgment. Her behavior “cannot reasonably be said to have constituted a private act,” Motz wrote. “She exposed herself at an outdoor fundraising event open to any members of the public who purchased a ticket.” (“Judge: Photo of woman baring her breasts didn’t violate privacy”, Examiner.com, Oct. 23; “Woman Can’t Sue Magazine After Flashing Breasts”, AP/WBAL, Oct. 23; link to Memorandum and Order). Similar: Jul. 4, 2006, etc.
Following urgings by prominent attorney and frequent Overlawyered mentionee Willie Gary, a jury in Pensacola, Fla. had awarded the sum to a road builder who said he was defamed by an investigative-journalism piece in the newspaper chain’s Pensacola News-Journal (Mar. 30-31, 2001; Dec. 23, 2003; Jan. 7, 2004). The Florida appeals court “ruled that Joe Anderson’s case should have been dismissed because he mischaracterized his lawsuit as a ‘false-light claim’ to get around a two-year statute of limitations that applies in libel cases. The court said that since its decision was based on the statute-of-limitations issue, it did not rule on several other arguments for reversal raised by the newspaper.” (Ginny Graybiel, “News Journal suit reversed”, Oct. 21).
Well, that was quick: “A judge Wednesday dismissed ethics complaints against prominent attorney Willie Gary and his partner. Circuit Judge Brian Lambert didn’t offer a reason for throwing out the case against Gary and Madison McClellan on the second day of a three-day hearing, although he had been considering several motions for dismissal, including one arguing there was a lack of evidence.” (see Jan. 5 and Apr. 1-2, 2002). “Judge dismisses ethics case against Willie Gary”, AP/Palm Beach Post, Jan. 7). (Note: this is AP’s corrected account, replacing an earlier version which affirmatively attributed the dismissal to lack of evidence.). More on the dismissal from Law.com: Harris Meyer, “Florida Judge Dismisses Ethics Case Against Willie Gary”, Miami Daily Business Review, Jan. 8. Update Sept. 5, 2005: underlying case and related litigation settle for sum upwards of $120 million.
In related matters, Evan Schaeffer, a plaintiff’s attorney practicing in fabled Madison County, Ill., links to our coverage of Gary and also recommends (as “antidote”) a Jonathan Harr New Yorker profile (PDF) which takes a rather more favorable view than we do of the Stuart, Fla.-based lawyer’s successes. And the St. Petersburg Times analyzes Gary’s recent $18 million win against Gannett in a “false light” defamation case (see Dec. 23; Mar. 30, 2001). The interesting thing about the “false light” doctrine is that it lets a publication be held liable for defamation even if all of the individual facts it printed were correct. (Stephen Nohlgren, “State: Case’s verdict shows truth no certain shield for media”, Jan. 4).