The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect defamation, but the requirements that speech must meet in order to qualify as defamation are very specific, and even more so for public figures. The primary objective of the First Amendment is to allow citizens (and especially the press) to speak freely about public figures in order to keep the public informed on what their elected officials and candidates are doing.
In June of this year, a gunman opened fire at a baseball stadium where Republican Congressmen were practicing for a charity baseball game. In an effort to write an editorial on the event and get it published quickly enough so as to still be relevant, the New York Times made some factual errors, but it quickly corrected them and apologized afterwards.
In trying to make a point about the level of hostility between the two political parties, James Bennet, the author of the editorial, mentioned the 2011 mass shooting conducted by Jared Loughner, which left Representative Gabrielle Giffords severely wounded. Bennet also mentioned a map of targeted electoral districts that Sarah Palin’s political action committee had previously circulated.
Palin promptly sued Bennet and the New York Times in New York federal court for defamation, claiming the editorial incorrectly connected her with the mass shooting, even though the publication she had no connection to the gunman, as the newspaper had previously said so in other articles it had published.
The New York Times filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, admitting that, while the publication had acknowledged Palin’s innocence as it related to the 2011 mass shooting, it was unreasonable to expect an editor to be intimately familiar with every article the newspaper has ever published.
But in order for a public figure to successfully sue for defamation, it’s not enough to prove the defendant knew the statement was false at the time they made it (although that is one of the requirements). The public figure also needs to prove the defendant did so with malicious intent, meaning they made the defamatory statement for the express purpose of hurting the public figure, either financially or otherwise.
In order to determine whether the New York Times and its editor acted maliciously, Judge Jed S. Rakoff asked Bennet to testify before deciding whether to grant the publication’s motion to dismiss the case. In his testimony, Bennet clarified that he had not meant to imply a connection between Palin and the 2011 shooting, but merely point out the level of hostility and violence that has been permeating politics over the past several years.
After hearing Bennet’s testimony, Rakoff concluded that, while publishing the editorial with incorrect information may have been negligent, it was certainly not malicious. He therefore ruled that the case did not meet all the requirements for defamation and granted the Times’s motion to dismiss.
Palin’s attorneys did not comment on the ruling, but a spokesperson for the Times said it was an example of the court’s commitment to protecting free speech.
Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.
Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Wilmette and Glenview who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.
Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.
Lubin Austermuehle’s DuPage County defamation and slander lawyers near Bolingbrook and Plano have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Waukegan and Evanston, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.
If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.