As the call for political activism has grown louder and wider in the past few years, most of us have seen or heard people urging us to call our political representatives to let them know how we feel about certain issues. But what if doing so could land you in court for defamation?
That’s what happened to Maggy Hurchalla, a long-time environmental activist who served as Martin County’s first female commissioner from 1974 to 1994 when she lost to a candidate who was heavily backed by developers.
Hurchalla has spent most of her life fighting to protect the Florida environment from developers. In the 20 years she spent as a county commissioner, growth and development did happen, but as Hurchalla put it, it happened slowly, “sanely”, and in a way that would not have a negative impact on Florida’s environment.
In 2008, Lake Point, a rock-mining company, bought 2,200 acres of what used to be sugar cane fields in Martin County, not far from Lake Okeechobee. Lake Point wanted to mine for limestone and use the leftover pits to store and clean polluted lake water, which would otherwise be flushed down the St. Lucie Estuary and contribute to toxic algae blooms, which are already a problem. The project was approved by both Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District.
That all sounds like a good thing for the environment, but according to Hurchalla, she became troubled when, a few years later, the company offered to sell that water to the city of West Palm Beach. Hurchalla and Martin County officials were not convinced that the plan would really benefit the environment. Continue reading ›
A foreign currency trading firm was implicated in misconduct when a separate company it had traded with was investigated by a regulatory authority. The second company settled the investigation with the regulator, and the regulator published documents relating to the investigation and settlement on its website. The documents named the trading firm and implied that the firm had engaged in illegal practices. The trading firm sued the regulator, arguing that the regulator had violated its due process rights and defamed it in the documents on its website. The district court dismissed the action, finding that the trading firm had not exhausted its available administrative remedies. The appellate panel affirmed, and also found that the state-law claims for defamation were preempted by the federal regulatory scheme and not available as a remedy to the trading firm.
National Futures Association is a self-regulatory organization under the Commodities Futures Trading Commission Act of 1974. The Commodity Exchange Act requires that SROs set forth many types of regulations and rules, including rules that provide that its members and persons associated with its members shall be appropriately disciplined for any violation of its rules. The NFA is subject to the broad authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The authority includes review of NFA disciplinary actions or denials of membership.
Effex Capital, LLC is a closely held, foreign-currency trading firm managed and controlled by John Dittami. Effex operates as an institutional over-the-counter, foreign-exchange liquidity provider and engages solely in transactions with other eligible contract participants such as financial institutions or highly capitalized trading counterparts. Because of the nature of Effex’s trading, it is not subject to regulation by the NFA and is therefore not a member of the NFA. Continue reading ›
Automated Transactions LLC (“ATL”), a small patent assertion entity, has collected millions enforcing a portfolio of patents relating to automated teller machines. After being labeled a “patent troll” by a number of critics of ATL’s enforcement practices, ATL filed a defamation suit in New Hampshire state court against 12 individuals and trade groups claiming that the cognomen was libelous. Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the suit finding the term “patent troll” to be a non-actionable opinion and rhetorical hyperbole.
This case stems from the patents of inventor David Barcelou, who claims to have come up with the idea of connecting ATMs to the internet. In 1994, Barcelou created a prototype of an automated gaming machine, which included ATM-like features such as the ability to immediately dispense cash to winners. Barcelou filed patent applications and was ultimately granted an ATM-related patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2005 and several other patents in the following years.
Barcelou’s efforts to commercialize his invention were largely unsuccessful and his “Automated Tournament Machine” never caught on. Barcelou later formed ATL, made ATL the exclusive licensor of the patent, and began licensing the patent and bringing infringement litigation. ATL filed infringement suits against numerous banks and credit unions allegedly using Barcelou’s patent in their ATMs. Additionally, nearly 200 different companies paid ATL roughly $3 million in licensing fees to avoid litigation.
ATL’s targets and several trade groups began vocalizing their criticism of ATL and Barcelou. One of the defendants in the slander lawsuit, an attorney who represented a number of the financial institutions targeted by ATL, said in an interview with the Boston Business Journal that ATL’s practices were “nothing more than a shakedown” and referred to ATL as a “patent troll” on his website. Another defendant, the Credit Union National Association, gave a presentation which contained a cartoon picture of a troll and referred to ATL as “a well-known patent troll.” A third defendant, the American Bankers Association, gave testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in which it referred to ATL as a “patent troll” that resorts to “extortive” practices “in an effort to extort payments” from financial institutions. Continue reading ›
An angry customer of a luxury car rental service posted comments on an internet message board alleging that the service defrauded him out of payments it owed him for the rental of his Lamborghini. The customer posted several times over a period of years, and then went quiet. Four years later, the customer marked a post that he made in 2011 “updated” without including any new content. The owner of the car rental service then sued, arguing that the postings constituted libel, breach of contract, and infliction of emotional distress. The district court dismissed the action. The appellate panel affirmed, finding that the action was untimely and that the act of marking a post as “updated” without actually altering or adding to its content was not sufficient to treat the post as a new publication and reset the statute of limitations.
George Kiebala owns a luxury car share service called Curvy Road Holdings LLC. Curvy Road allows customers to purchase time-ownership rights to high-end automobiles that are owned by “investors.” In September 2009, Derek Boris became a Curvy Road “investor” and received a share of the rental revenue when customers drove his Lamborghini Gallardo. Kiebala made payments to Boris in late 2009 and March 2010.
In May 2010, however, Boris withdrew his car from the program, and Kiebala’s check for his final payment to Boris did not clear. Kiebala emailed Boris in July and August to explain that various medical and business difficulties were preventing payment. Boris never received his final payment, and communications between the two seemed to come to an end.
After a period of quiet, Boris posted angry and derogatory statements on various websites about Kiebala and Curvy Road. He did this on eight occasions from December 2010 through July 2011. Boris then when dormant for a few years, but resumed his postings regarding Kiebala and Curvy Road in the summer of 2015. The following year, Kiebala, representing himself, sued Boris alleging libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of a non-disclosure agreement, breach of contract, and tortious interference with business expectancy. Boris moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion on all counts. Kiebala then appealed. Continue reading ›
Testimonies are generally reserved for trials, so when the editor of The New York Times, James Bennet, testified before a judge who was deciding whether to dismiss a case, the hearing itself was already highly unusual.
Normally, a motion to dismiss asks the judge to consider the merits of the case and whether it’s worth the court’s time to pursue the matter. If anyone is brought in to testify, it’s not until after the judge has determined that the claims have merit and the case should move forward.
But Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District of Manhattan, went off-script when he summoned Bennet to testify before making his decision regarding whether to dismiss Sarah Palin’s case against The New York Times.
Palin sued the major newspaper after it published an editorial, written by Bennet, linking Palin to a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona on January 8, 2011, in which 6 people were killed and 13 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Continue reading ›
For too long, law enforcement and the courts have refused to acknowledge the real-world damage that can be done by online hate, but that attitude seems to be turning around. In just the past few months, one internet “troll” has been ordered to pay a total of more than $20 million to three different targets of his online vitriol.
Andrew Anglin is the publisher of a neo-Nazi website called The Daily Stormer that has targeted (among others) a black female college student, a Jewish real estate agent, and an Arab-American comedian. In June, the comedian won a $4.1 million lawsuit against Anglin, and shortly after that, Anglin was ordered to pay the real estate agent $14 million.
The most recent award against Anglin is for $725,000 for targeting Taylor Dumpson, the first African American female student body president of American University. The award includes $500,000 as punishment for his actions, plus $124,000 in legal fees and costs, and $101,000 to compensate Dumpson for the damage she suffered.
Dumpson was the target of racist hate and vitriol from the day she was sworn in as student body president of American University, back in May of 2017, when bananas hanging from nooses were found all over campus. Many of the bananas had messages written on them, including references to her predominantly black sorority, and to a gorilla that was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2016.
After news outlets reported on the bananas in nooses around the American University campus, Anglin published Dumpson’s personal information on The Daily Stormer and allegedly encouraged harassment against her. Two of Anglin’s followers, Brian Ade and Evan McCarty, responded to Anglin’s call by allegedly harassing Dumpson online with racist and demeaning messages and threats. Continue reading ›
Nick Sandmann achieved fame earlier this year when a short video clip of him standing face-to-face with a Native American by the name of Nathan Phillips went viral back in January. Sandmann, who is wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat in the video clip, was chastised on social media as a racist who had taunted a Native American.
After the video went viral, several news organizations reported on the incident, including the Washington Post, NBC, and CNN. Sandmann sued all of them for allegedly defaming him by misrepresenting his actions and failing to report the full story.
Shortly after the video went viral, it was revealed that the Native American group was there with the Indigenous People’s March and Sandmann and his classmates were students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who was in Washington D.C. for The March for Life. But it turned out those two groups weren’t the only ones outside the Lincoln Memorial that day. The third was a group of Black Hebrew Israelites who, it turned out, were heckling the students and other visitors to the memorial, claiming they were the result of incest and sodomy. The students pointed out to the group of Black Hebrew Israelites that their comments about sodomy were homophobic. Continue reading ›
As reported by the Cook County Record, Lubin Austermuehle achieved an immediate settlement for its client one of the largest diamond wholesalers in the world in a libel defamation and slander lawsuit filed in Chicago’s federal court. The Defendant agreed to provide a public full retraction and apology as part of the otherwise confidential settlement admitting that it had made baseless claims against Lubin Austermuehle’s client. The headline to the article states:
Settlements end diamond wholesalers’ fraud, defamation disputes; lawyer accused of ‘extortion ring’
The article starts out:
A legal dispute, in which one diamond wholesaler allegedly falsely accused another of fraud, has ended in a settlement to resolve a potential multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit, amid accusations the plaintiff in the original fraud suit was acting in coordination with an attorney facing a racketeering action over claims he has participated in an alleged scheme to use alleged fraud lawsuits to allegedly pressure jewelers into settlements.
On Aug. 17, a Chicago federal judge signed off on the settlement deal between diamond wholesalers David Cohen and Ofer Mizrahi. The case was terminated on Aug. 20.
You can view the entire article here.
You can view the public apology and retraction the Defendant gave as part of the settlement here.
The retraction and apology appears below::
After a forensic document examiner wrote an article on the evaluation of qualifications and credentials in his profession for a trade publication, the nonprofit credentialing organization that was mentioned in the article sued the author and the publisher of the publication for defamation. The nonprofit argued that the article was defamatory and also singled out one of its members for special criticism. The district court dismissed the case, finding that the article was not defamatory, as it contained only opinions. An appellate court ruled in favor of the author and publisher, finding that the article represented the opinions of the author and that it was not possible to read the article as containing assertions of fact subject to verification. The appellate court determined that the district court did not err in finding that the article was not defamatory, even though it found that the author of the article should have disclosed his relationship to the credentialing organization that he promoted in his article.
The Board of Forensic Document Examiners is a nonprofit organization that administers a certification program for forensic document examiners. Certified examiners analyze and compare handwriting and provide expert testimony in judicial proceedings. The Board has certified about a dozen examiners. Continue reading ›