Articles Posted in Defamation, Libel and Slander

After a “professional sugar baby” went on a campaign of revenge targeting her ex-boyfriend, the district court awarded $7.5 million in damages to the ex-boyfriend. The woman’s actions spanned 17 months and included multiple defamatory postings on her social media accounts, as well as the creation of many fake social media profiles in the ex-boyfriend’s name, which she used to distribute false and harmful content to her ex-boyfriend’s personal and business contacts.

John Doe is a 45-year-old technology professional employed as a Senior Director at a consulting firm. Jessica Jiahui Lee is a 19-year-old part-time exotic dancer and “professional sugar baby” who enters into relationships with affluent men in exchange for gifts, travel, and a life of luxury. Doe met Lee in or around February 2017 while traveling to Las Vegas, Nevada for business. The two began a casual dating relationship in March 2017, which lasted for approximately seven months. Continue reading ›

What if you were a college student and you realized one of your professors kept a seating chart that included comments about each student’s race and judgments on their physical appearance? That’s the possibility that Elmhurst College students faced when an article was published in the student newspaper, The Leader, about Professor Timothy Hays, the music business director at Elmhurst College. A student allegedly took a photo of Hays’s seating chart when he was out of the room and sent it to the school newspaper.

The seating chart allegedly contained notes beneath each student’s name relating to their physical appearance, including “black,” “Hispanic,” and, for a female student, “cute.” While such notes might seem harmless to the professor, they could be in the view of some of the students and the college administration, ways of separating minority students out from the “normal” white, male students, and such notes some students and the administration could argue have a profound effect on the way the professor treats those students, even if he’s not consciously aware of it. Some will claim that such views simply reflect political correctedness and that private notes should not be a basis for taking action against a professor abesent proof that he has ever acted in such a discriminatory fashion. However, benign discrimination is always hard to detect.

Hays argued that the notes were intended to be private and were never meant to be publicly distributed and were simply a tool to help him identify and remember students and their classroom contributions. Hays then allegedly made the situation worse for himself after the initial article was published by allegedly lashing out at students in his class after the article was published. Some Students complained to college officials and got them to bring in a new professor for the class and The Leader published another article about Hays relating to the incident.

Another student alleged Hays cornered her in a stairwell and looked down her shirt. She said she told college officials about it, but nothing was done until the third article about Professor Hays was published, detailing the incident. Continue reading ›

In a lengthy opinion, a split New York appeals court rejected President Trump’s argument that he was immune from a defamation lawsuit by virtue of his position as President. The plaintiff in the libel suit is former Apprentice contestant, Summer Zervos. With this opinion, President Trump joins President Clinton as contributors to the jurisprudence clarifying the contours and extent of presidential immunity. The appellate court in Zervos v. Trump relied heavily upon Clinton v. Jones, the 1997 U.S. Supreme Court opinion which held that presidents aren’t immune from civil actions in federal court based on purely private conduct.

The underlying defamation lawsuit stems from statements made by Trump during his campaign. Following release of a video depicting Trump making crude comments about women, Zervos held a press conference in which she accused Trump of kissing her twice in 2007 and attacking her and making unwanted sexual advances in a Beverly Hills hotel room.

Trump responded to Zervos’s accusations with a flurry of statements saying “I never met her at a hotel” and that the “allegations are 100% false. . . . They are made up, they never happened.” In several tweets and at campaign rallies, Trump further responded to the accusations of Zervos and others claiming, “I didn’t know any of these women,” and “didn’t see these women” and their allegations were “100 percent fabricated and made-up charges, pushed strongly by the media and the Clinton campaign.”

Zervos followed these statements by filing a defamation suit alleging that Trump’s statements amounted to branding her a liar which damaged her reputation in the community. Zervos seeks actual and punitive damages from the President. Ms. Zervos’s attorney, Gloria Allred, announced the lawsuit days before President Trump took office. Continue reading ›

When a candidate for governor sued news organization alleging defamation and libel as a result of news organization’s statements concerning candidate’s domestic violence conviction and history as gang member, summary judgment was granted for news organization. The appellate court found that the statements about the candidate’s domestic violence conviction were substantially true, and that the statement’s about the candidate’s history as a gang member, while false, were not made with actual malice.

In August 2013, Tio Hardiman declared his intention to run for Governor of Illinois. In January 2014, it was announced that Hardiman’s name would appear first on the Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot. After the announcement, Hardiman was interviewed by Mike Flannery, the political editor for Fox Chicago WFLD for a segment slated to air during WFLD’s 9 p.m. news broadcast. Ahead of the broadcast, Katie Fraser, WFLD’s web producer, wrote an article for WFLD’s website titled, “Controversial candidate remains on primary ballot for governor.” The article detailed Hardiman’s explanation to Flannery of the dismissal of a 1999 guilty plea and conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence against Hardiman’s then wife.

Prior to the broadcast, a teaser was read on-air by news anchor Jeff Herndon, stating, “Also, a former gang member who was once accused of beating his wife wants to be your governor. Why he says voters shouldn’t be concerned about his domestic violence conviction.” At some point after Hardiman’s interview aired, Hardiman contacted the WFLD newsroom stating that he was not a former gang member. That same night, WFLD clarified on air that Hardiman stated that he had worked closely with gang members but was not, himself, a gang member. Later that evening, Hardiman saw the web article and contacted WFLD a second time, requesting that they retract the portion of the article concerning Hardiman’s domestic violence conviction. WFLD later updated the article to specify that Hardiman had received a sentence of probation after pleading guilty to the charge. Continue reading ›

The Illinois Appellate Court overturned a trial court’s decision that allowed for Farmers Insurance to get out of its contractual obligation to pay for our client’s successful defense of a meritless libel suit. When a business or homeowner is sued for libel, they may not realize it but their CGL business insurance policy or homeowners insurance policy often plainly provides for coverage of libel, defamation and slander suits. Most insurance carriers stand behind their insureds and honor the obligation to pay for the defense, even when the allegations are ugly.  That is what happened for Bill Cosby who used his homeowners’ insurance policy to defend against libel suits brought by women when he denied drugging and raping them. If a carrier is willing to defend Cosby it should defend its insureds when they are wrongfully sued for libel simply for exercising their First Amendment free speech rights by posting a negative review on Yelp or stating a strongly held position at work that they don’t like how their supervisor treats them. After all the insurance we pay for insurance policies to protect us even when we make a mistake.

Farmers spends millions of dollars on television advertising claiming that it will stand behind its insureds when they make every conceivable mistake; it never advertises that it will attack its own insureds, place all the blame on them and refuse to honor the express provisions of its form home owners insurance policy which contains a standard provision to defend homeowners sued for libel.

Given Farmers’ advertisements, our client never imagined that Farmers would betray and attack him as opposed to paying for his defense of meritless libel suit.

Continue reading ›

Late last month, the family of Nicholas Sandmann filed a defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post seeking $250 million in damages (roughly the amount Jeff Bezos paid to purchase the newspaper in 2013). Sandmann is the Covington Catholic High School teenager whose standoff with Native American activist Nathan Phillips went viral earlier this year. According to the lawsuit, the Post allegedly defamed Sandmann by initially describing Sandmann as the instigator of the confrontation with Phillips and for portraying Sandmann as “engaged in acts of racism by ‘swarming’ Phillips, ‘blocking’ his exit away from the students, and otherwise engaging in racist misconduct.”

Sandmann was one of a number of students from Covington Catholic High School who were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats during a trip to the National Mall when they encountered Phillips. A media firestorm surrounding Sandmann kicked off following an online video depicting an apparent standoff between Sandmann and Phillips near the Lincoln Memorial. Comments online and on Twitter following the release of the video were quick to brand Sandmann and to a lesser extent the other Covington students shown in the video, as MAGA bigots. News accounts, including in The Washington Post, of the confrontation, sparked a media firestorm and national debate over the behavior of the participants.

Additional video footage, however, seemed to complicate the characterization of Sandmann as a bigot or the instigator of the confrontation with Phillips. Ultimately, several prominent media outlets and personalities issued apologies for having rushed to judgment. The Sandmann family, however, has contended that the alleged harm to their son’s reputation and standing in the community was already done and is demanding both compensatory and punitive damages. Continue reading ›

Where a blogger posted a blog post accusing photographer of attempting to engage in child pornography and sexual assault, the trial court did not commit an error in concluding that blogger had failed to demonstrate that her blog post constituted protected opinion.

Ronald Ladao filed suit against Lauren Faits, alleging libel and false light. Ladao alleged that in 2016, Faits published several false and defamatory statements about him in a post on her blog, “Geek Girl Chicago.” The statements were contained in a blog post that stated that, in 2003, Faits, then a minor, attended an anime cosplay convention in Chicago. Faits then stated that she and a group of cosplayers went to a hotel room to change out of their costumes, and that they were followed by a photographer, who broke through the locked hotel room door and attempted to get nude photos and/or videos of underage cosplayers, and that the photographer’s name was Ron “Soulcrash” Ladao.

Faits then stated that after she threatened to call the police, Ladao left the room, calling her a rude name on his way out. Faits described the incident as a sexual assault. Ladao alleged that Faits statements that he rushed into a hotel room in an effort to obtain nude photographs of underage girls, and that he committed sexual assault, were libel per se because they accused him of conduct that was damaging to his reputation as a professional photographer and because they accused him of criminal conduct. Ladao alleged that as a result of the blog post he suffered harm to his reputation and career, humiliation, and emotional distress. Continue reading ›

Justice Clarence Thomas has just called for a reconsideration of the landmark 1964 case of The New York Times v. Sullivan, but the timing of this call is interesting. It came right after Trump’s complaints that the current libel laws make it too difficult for public figures to win libel lawsuits – disregarding the fact that that’s the point.

According to Thomas, the decision was not Constitutional, nor was it in the spirit of the founding fathers who drafted and ratified the Constitution. Instead, Thomas claims they were policy-driven decisions that were disguised as constitutional law.

Despite the fact that the First Amendment is part of a federal document governing the entire country, Thomas claims the duty of protecting citizens’ rights should remain with the states, claiming the states were perfectly capable of handling cases of libel on their own until the case in question came into existence in 1964 – almost 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified. Thomas thinks the states are able on their own to walk that fine line between encouraging public discussion and providing a reasonable remedy for any potential harm that one’s reputation might suffer, but the facts of the case tell a different story.

The lawsuit was filed by L.B. Sullivan over an advertisement that ran in The Times to support the civil rights movement. Sullivan was a city commissioner for the city of Montgomery, AL. His name wasn’t even mentioned in the ad, but he filed his libel lawsuit anyway and won a whopping $500,000 in the lower courts. It was just one of many such lawsuits filed by Southern politicians as a way to prevent the civil rights movement from gaining national attention.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, all nine judges ruled in favor of The Times. Continue reading ›

When a restaurant owner was sued for broadcasting DirecTV and paying only residential subscription rates instead of higher commercial subscription rates, the owner could not seek coverage under the insurance policy. The policy protected against suits for libel, slander, or defamation, and even though DirecTV had alleged that the owner had damaged its reputation, the owner was not alleged to have made any statement, and therefore the facts did not indicate any act of libel, slander, or defamation entitling the owner to a defense of the suit.

Martinsville Corral, Inc. owns two Texas Corral restaurants in Indiana. In December 2013, Society issued an insurance policy to MCI that provided general business liability coverage. MCI also purchased additional coverage under an “Employment-Related Practices Liability Endorsement.” The Endorsement requires Society to cover MCI for “damages resulting from a ‘wrongful act’ to which the policy applies.” Continue reading ›