Cases where courts found defamation for truthful speech
I was reading a blog by Itai Maytal that was about a defamation claim, where a blogger was ordered to pay $60,000 in damages to a plaintiff over truthful information. From my knowledge, the First Amendment protects all speech that is based upon “truth.”
Maytal confirmed my assertion of speech rights in the following statements:
“One of the first things I learned as a journalist, and later again as a media lawyer, was that under the First Amendment the ‘truth’ could not be subject to a viable defamation claim. True statements are simply constitutionally immune and plaintiffs cannot sidestep all of the common law and constitutional protections for true speech through creative pleadings that would merely re-label defamation as another cause of action. The Supreme Court has flatly held as much in a long line of cases going as far back as the 1980s.”
Unfortunately, this was not the case in a defamation claim in Minnesota, where the truth was not protected by the court.
According to Maytal, in the case of Moore v. Allen, “Jerry Moore sued John Hoff and six others in June 2009 for five allegedly biased and defamatory statements on Hoff’s blog ‘The Adventures of Johnny Northside.’ The blog seeks ‘to help with a process of turning a rapidly revitalizing neighborhood into something approaching Urban Utopia’ and is said to attract about 300 to 500 visitors daily.”
“Mr. Moore claimed in case filings, reported as well in various news reports, that he had lost his job at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center, where he was hired to study mortgage foreclosures, a day after Mr. Hoff posted statements that claimed Moore had been involved in ‘a high-profile fraudulent mortgage.’”
The case was decided in favor the plaintiff (Moore), even though the statement in question was based on truth. According to Maytal, “The jury found that it [statement] was true but still an unlawful interference with Moore’s employment at the university. They awarded the plaintiff $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress. The court subsequently rejected a motion by the defendant to set aside the jury verdict or start a new trial, noting that it found ‘direct and circumstantial evidence adduced at trial ‘supports the findings of the jury and can be reconciled.’”
In Maytal’s blog, there are several other cases that are mentioned, where the plaintiffs were awarded damages on defamation claims, due to statements of truth.
Court decisions such as Moore v. Allen put bloggers as well as journalists at risk of defamation claims that will be deemed actionable for statements based on truth. This clearly violates constitutional protections given by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld that otherwise protected speech does not lose its protection, even if it results in economic hardship or interferes with contractual relationships.
Court rulings put bloggers and journalists at risk for disseminating truth
All journalists should be aware of all court rulings that jeopardize or violate protected speech, particularly the in the states that these flawed decisions were made.
In a time where journalists and whistleblowers have been prosecuted and persecuted for truth telling, it is safe to say that protected speech could very well become even less protected by courts.
All journalists and bloggers must find solidarity, on the grounds of defending protected speech and the dissemination of truth to the public.
To read Maytal’s entire blog, click here