Articles Posted in Defamation, Libel and Slander

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 ›

Lubin Austermuehle and Viriant’s Combined Efforts Help Remove Defamatory Internet Posts

Lubin Austermuehle is among a handful of leading lawyers from across the country picked as a member of Viriant’s nationwide network to protect companies, doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals from defamation on the cyber smears and internet defamation. We are excited to announce the continuation of our longtime partnership with Viriant.

Lubin Austermuehle has over thirty years of experience representing large and small businesses, and professionals such as lawyers in doctors in protecting their businesses from harmful online defamation and cyber smear attacks. We recently obtained a full retraction and apology for our large diamond wholesale client who was exposed to a sustained and targeted internet smear campaign.  We filed libel per se suit against the perpetrator for $16 million and demanded the retraction and apology as a settlement term.  You learn more about that suit here.

MG_6325_1-300x200We defend and prosecute cyber smear and internet defamation cases throughout the Chicago area including near Schaumburg, Aurora, and Wheaton.

We have defeated claims against our clients with a number of creative defenses founded on the First Amendment, Innocent Construction or personal jurisdiction defenses.  We have also prevailed against such defenses for our clients who have pursued defamations and slander claims.  We have obtained removal from the internet of commercially defamatory reviews against our business and professional services clients such as doctors and lawyers posted on internet review sites such as Google and Yelp.

You can view here a decision in an internet defamation case involving a negative review on the Rip-Off Report where we successfully defended our client by obtaining a dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction. For a detailed discussion of the personal jurisdiction defense in internet defamation cases, you can go to our website.

You can view here a Yelp review by our client who was wrongfully sued for negative Yelp and other reviews against a daycare center that had been closed down by the Department of Children and Family Services for alleged negligent care of young children.

The Digital Media Law Website is a great resource for non-lawyers to learn about defamation law.  It defines defamation as follows:

Defamation

Defamation is the general term for a legal claim involving injury to one’s reputation caused by a false statement of fact and includes both libel (defamation in written or fixed form) and slander (spoken defamation). The crux of a defamation claim is falsity. Truthful statements that harm another’s reputation will not create liability for defamation (although they may open you up to other forms of liability if the information you publish is of a personal or highly private nature).

Defamation in the United States is governed by state law. While the U.S. Constitution sets some limits on what states can do in the context of free speech, the specific elements of a defamation claim can — and often do — vary from state to state. Accordingly, you should consult your state’s law in the State Law: Defamation section of this guide for specific information.

There are many defenses to defamation and slander claims. Our lawyers concentrate in this area and can provide our clients — both plaintiffs and defendants — with considerable resources to guide their claims through the intricacies of these defenses. You can go our two websites to learn more about theses defenses here and here.

Here is a video regarding a client we defended in an internet defamation claim. We settled federal court case in favor of our client after we filed a sanctions motion against the used car dealer plaintiff for filing an allegedly false lawsuit; our client received a full release and all of his videos and negative video reviews remained on the internet after we won an arbitration proceeding against the dealer which was part of the settlement of the federal court suit dismissing all of the claims. Here is a newstory about the case.

You can read the Arbitrator’s decision upholding our client’s rights to keep his videos posted on the internet here.  While the Arbitrator disagreed with our client’s tactics and did not endorse his conduct, he found our client had a First Amendment Right to speak his mind as long as he told the truth or simply voiced his opinions no matter how negative.  The Arbitrator held as follows based on our cross-examination of the Claimant’s owner proving that our client had told the truth when he claimed that the Claimant auto dealership had engaged in consumer fraud in the past and that our client had only made minor errors in his hundreds of postings and video reviews on Youtube of the auto dealership:

There is no issue that Claimant has engaged in false advertising. [It’s owner] has admitted as much and more, including submitting a false affidavit in litigation antecedent to this arbitration. Judgments and pleadings are public records; disseminating this information that is part of a public record is not actionable. In addition, the fact of entry of judgment provides a colorable foundation for the opinions and conclusions published by Bates. As much as the Claimants would like to explain away these events, and as minor a part this conduct has played in comparison with the totality of business operations, the facts are what they are; once in the public domain these facts can be both circulated and commented on.  In addition, insignificant errorata is not actionable in any event, and it is conceded that many postings are of this character.

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Being sued for defamation can be a costly and anxiety-inducing experience. It is essential to understand a bit about what defamation (also referred to sometimes as libel or slander) is and importantly what some of the common defenses and privileges to such a claim are. However, there is no substitute to hiring an attorney skilled and experienced in the area of defamation defense law.

What is Defamation?

Defamation is a false statement made to others that harms a person’s reputation in the community.  Defamation law is based on the premise that a person’s good reputation has value and one who harms that good reputation by making false statements should be made to pay. In Illinois, the plaintiff (the person or business claiming to have been defamed) who makes a claim of defamation generally has the burden of proof (the obligation to put forward evidence).

A defamation claim generally has three elements that the plaintiff the must prove in order to recover damages: (1) a false statement; (2) made to a third party (also known as publication); (3) that harms the plaintiff’s reputation. A plaintiff who proves a defamation claim can recover monetary damages and even an injunction in some cases. Fortunately, there are several common defenses and privileges to a charge of defamation that you can assert to avoid having a defamation judgment entered against you.

Defamation vs. Libel and Slander?

Sometimes you will hear defamation referred to as libel or slander (or that a defendant libeled or slandered the plaintiff). Libel and slander are simply different forms of defamation. Libel is defaming someone in writing. Slander is defaming someone orally. In the past, courts dealt with libel and slander claims differently, and each claim had different elements that needed to be proved along with different defenses. Illinois courts have long since discarded the distinctions between the claims and now simply refer to both types of claims as defamation.

Common Defenses and Privileges to a Charge of Defamation

Truth

Truth is an absolute defense to a charge of defamation. An essential element of a defamation claim is that the allegedly defamatory statement was false. It is not enough simply to prove that the statement damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. The statement must also be false. It is important to note that the statement need not be 100% true in every single detail for this defense to apply. A statement need only be “substantially true” for the defense to apply. This means that the allegedly damaging part of the statement must be true even if some of the minor, peripheral details were not accurate.

In practice, if you are going to say something negative about a business or individual, you should only do so if such a statement is backed up by verifiable evidence. Continue reading ›

With all the talk around Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct around young girls, including a Pulitzer-Prize winning article in The Washington Post, it’s hard to believe one actor’s prank could make much of a difference, but Moore alleges it did.

For an episode of his show, Who Is America? that aired on July 29th, Sacha Baron Cohen invited Moore to Washington D.C. under the pretense of an award for Moore’s support of Israel. Instead, Moore met with Cohen disguised as his character, Erran Morad, an Israeli “anti-terrorism expert.”

During a sit-down between “Morad” and Moore, Morad told Moore about a particular enzyme that pedophiles secrete at much higher rates than normal people. He said that Israelis had developed a machine that could detect this enzyme, with the idea being that they could install the machines at school entrances to alert staff of any pedophiles entering the building.

Morad then produced what he claimed was one of these machines, saying it would beep if waved over a pedophile but would remain silent if waved over a normal person. Of course, the “machine” was rigged to beep when waved over Moore, at which point Morad pretended to be confused, claiming the machine must be malfunctioning and asking Moore if the jacket he was wearing belonged to him and whether he had loaned it to anyone recently.

Moore denied the insinuation that he’s a pedophile, pointing to his 33-year-long marriage as evidence and alleging he had never been accused of such things. He eventually ended the interview and left, saying he supported Israel, but not the kind of antics to which he was being subjected. Continue reading ›

As Alex Jones prepares to deal with the shutdown of several of his social media pages (including four Facebook pages and his Infowars YouTube channel), he also has to contend with multiple defamation lawsuits that have been filed against him, at least one of which will soon be moving forward.

Judge Scott Jenkins of the District Court for the 53rd District in Austin, Texas, denied Jones’s motion to dismiss the case. Jones claimed his hateful speech was protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but Judge Jenkins disagreed. Defamation is not protected under the First Amendment, and if the plaintiffs can prove their claims of financial damages as a result of Jones’s defamatory statements, then they’ll have a solid case for defamation.

In his request to have the lawsuit dismissed, Jones included a request that the families suing him pay him $100,000 for the legal fees he has incurred in defending himself against their lawsuit.

While defendants are often made to pay legal fees if a court rules against them, it’s almost unheard of for a court to require a plaintiff to pay for a defendant’s legal fees. As the situation currently stands for Jones, not only will he not get that $100,000, but he might have to pay more than $1 million in damages to Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of six-year-old Noah, who was one of the children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Jones has repeatedly called the mass shooting a hoax and accused victims and family members of being actors who are paid by the government and gun control lobbyists to carry out their anti-gun conspiracy. Continue reading ›

The former president of the College of DuPage won a victory in his federal court appeal against the trustees who ousted him. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that his employment contract was valid under Illinois law.

Robert Breuder was hired as president of the Glen Ellyn, Illinois-based community college for a four-year term beginning in 2008. The college’s board of trustees later extended his contract through 2019. In 2015, newly elected trustees, accusing Breuder of misconduct, discharged him without notice or a hearing. The board denied his severance pay and retirement benefits.

Breuder filed a complaint in Illinois federal court on state and federal grounds, accusing the board of breach of contract, deprivation of property without due process of law, and defamatory statements.

Public employees who serve pursuant to a contract are considered to have a property right in their job and generally must be afforded a hearing before termination.

The board obtained the dismissal of the complaint on the grounds that Breuder never had a valid employment contract.

The crux of the board’s argument was that under Illinois law dating back over a century, a governmental body whose members serve limited terms may not enter into contracts that extend beyond those terms (Millikin v. Edgar County, 142 Ill. 528 (1892)). The board that originally hired Breuder contained members whose terms expired the following year. Therefore, the defendants reasoned, both the original four-year contract and the extensions were invalid. Continue reading ›

The video of Jason Spencer walking backward with his pants down while screaming “America!” was widely viewed and mocked after it aired on Sacha Baron Cohen’s show, “Who Is America?” While it’s certainly embarrassing for Spencer, who later resigned his position as a Georgia state lawmaker, is it worthy of a lawsuit?

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to getting sued by people who appear on screen with him. His movies and TV shows tend to poke fun at people and put them in a less-than-flattering light, so it’s never a surprise when they become upset after seeing themselves on screen. The latest round of lawsuits looks like it might come from several politicians who appeared on Cohen’s show, “Who Is America?” although it’s unclear exactly what their claims will be. Some of them have already made public comments saying they’ll pursue all legal remedies, but no lawsuits have yet been filed.

There are a few problems with these people trying to sue Cohen and/or the show’s producers. The first is the high probability that they all signed release agreements. While one upset politician has admitted to having signed a release, another said he doesn’t remember, but that it’s likely that he did. Continue reading ›

In August some major online content distributors, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Apple, started removing Alex Jones’s Infowars content from their platforms for allegedly violating their policies. It made sense for Jones’s staff to delete some of the offensive material in order to get his content back onto those major platforms so he could get back in front of his audience. But because he is also facing a defamation lawsuit, deleting that material could be considered destroying evidence, which is illegal.

Jones and his company, Infowars, have been sued by survivors and family members of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Jones has said on his broadcast that the entire shooting was a hoax planned and sponsored by the government in order to promote an anti-Second Amendment agenda. Jones has accused survivors and family members of being actors and claimed that the supposed deceased never really existed in the first place.

As if losing a child to senseless violence isn’t bad enough, survivors and family members have had to deal with threats and harassment from Jones’s followers. At least one family has moved to a gated community as a result of the threats they received.

Some of the survivors and family members have responded by suing Jones and his company for defamation. Much of that lawsuit depends upon the content published by Infowars, but since some of that content has since been deleted (and Jones is on record admitting he told his staff to delete the content), Jones may have inadvertently dug his hole deeper. Continue reading ›

One of the problems with arbitration is that it’s private, which means the results never make it into the news. This poses a problem for those trying to use lawsuits in order to make a statement.

Rick Pitino recently sued Adidas for allegedly inflicting damage to his reputation after a corruption scandal that eventually resulted in him losing his job at Louisville. The defamation lawsuit sought both compensatory and punitive damages, although the complaint did not specify an amount for either one. According to Steve Pence, Pitino’s attorney, the lawsuit was less about the money than it was about trying to salvage Pitino’s reputation.

But shortly after Pitino filed the lawsuit, Adidas filed a motion to dismiss it, saying the case belonged in private arbitration outside of court. The judge agreed and dismissed the case.

It’s worth noting that the dismissal does not mean that Adidas is innocent of the allegations against it. All it means is that the U.S. court is not the proper jurisdiction to handle the dispute. But since the results of arbitration are never made public, Pitino’s stated main goal of clearing his name cannot be accomplished through arbitration.

In 2017, an FBI investigation linked Pitino with improper recruitment practices, specifically his connection with Brian Bowen, a five-star player who was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit to playing for the University of Louisville.

Pitino was initially placed on administrative leave in September of 2017 after the results of the FBI investigation were made public. He was fired just a few weeks later and Bowen ended up not playing for U of L. Continue reading ›