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.
Faits moved for summary judgment, arguing that her statements were protected by a qualified privilege, protected opinion, substantially true, or should be considered rhetorical hyperbole. The trial court disagreed and denied Faits’ motion for summary judgment. The case proceeded to a jury trial. At trial, Ladao testified that he attended the convention as a participant and as a staffer taking videos of some of the events. Ladao stated that Faits had stored her belongings in his hotel room, and that, after the convention was over, he, Faits, and a group of others went back to his hotel room so that Faits and the others could change out of their costumes. Ladao stated that two males remained in the room with Faits and the others, but that he waited outside of the hotel room in the hallway. Ladao, continued, stating that he thought that it would be a good prank to pretend to break into the hotel room, and that, in the course of doing so, he accidentally broke the lock on the door.
Ladao introduced a video of the incident at trial. When cross-examined, Faits admitted that the video did not depict Ladao holding a camera when he entered the room, or him calling her a rude name. Still, Faits said that even after seeing the video she still believed in the truth of what she wrote in her blog post. After deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on both counts. The jury awarded Ladao $65,000.00 in compensatory damages and $20,000.00 in punitive damages. On Ladao’s claim for false light, the jury awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000.00 in punitive damages. Faits then appealed.
The appellate panel began by finding that the circuit court did not err by failing to rule, during summary judgment, whether Faits’ statements constituted protected opinions as a matter of law. The panel stated that from the record it was clear that the court did rule on the question presented by Faits, and that it found that Faits failed to carry her burden of establishing that her statements were entitled to protection as opinions. Citing Makowski v. City of Naperville, the panel stated that a trial court is not required to provide a detailed discussion of its analysis and it is not reversible error for the trial court to fail to provide any such discussion. The panel, therefore, affirmed the decision of the circuit court.
You can read the full opinion here.
Our DuPage County 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. You can view here a federal court decision where we prevailed in a libel per se claim asserting the innocent infringer defense. Here is an arbitration decision where we won a decision in favor our client after we presented evidence and cross-examined the used car dealer defendant at a hearing where we proved that our client’s 20 plus Youtube videos voicing his opinion that a used car dealer committed consumer fraud were true, were protected opinions under the First Amendment, or involved inconsequential and minor errors of fact. We recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit regarding our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16 million suit for libel per se in federal district court. You can read about that case here.
Our DuPage County Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Wheaton and Naperville 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 and Chicago slander attorney Patrick Austermuehle a Rising Star. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over thirty years 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 Lake County defamation and slander lawyers near Geneva and Hinsdale 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 Chicago, Elmhurst and Wilmette near Evanston and Batavia, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.