Dog Days of Defamation

August 23, 2008

August has been a busy month for Minnesota defamation rulings.  Must be the heat.

The first case was filed by Adam Steele, an outspoken newspaper editor in Bemidji, who sued Google for $50 billion — yes, billion, with a B — after Google made available a Minnesota Law & Politics article titled “All the News That’s Not Fit to Print” that Steele claims defamed him.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals threw out the suit by applying the federal Communication Decency Act, which affords enormous protections for websites where defamatory material might end up.  The CDA is a tremendously important tool for all online communicators, including bloggers who permit unmoderated comments to be posted.

The second case arose in International Falls after an employee at Boise Cascade claimed that he had been called a “lazy, fat f–cker” at work and that his employer was responsible for various false statements being spread.  A jury awarded him $28,200, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the verdict on grounds that employers are legally entitled (in legalese, “privileged”) to make statements about employees when investigating wrongdoing.   The case, in some ways, is nothing unusual.  Appeals courts are not bashful about finding ways to rein in jury awards in defamation cases.

The third case, while not a defamation case per se, involved allegedly false campaign material.  Suit was broght by Stev Stegner, the current mayor of Forest Lake.  It was a bumpy election win for Mr. Stenger, whom foes accused of being involved with Muslim terrorists and planning to subject the municipal water supply to attack.  Stenger filed a complaint alleging campaign wrongdoing.  Among the evidence were purported “government surveillance photos” of Stegner at the Holy Land Cafe on Central Avenue in Minneapolis.  (Fantastic hummus, by the way.)   The court ruled that although the statements “may provide grounds for a defamation claim,” they did not involve “campaign material” and were “unfortunately . . . part of political discourse.”

Part of the discourse.  Free speech wins again.


One Response to “Dog Days of Defamation”

  1. dildo Says:

    I wanted to thank you for this good read!
    ! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I have got you saved as a favorite to check out new stuff you post…

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