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Can bloggers be liable in a court for blogging the truth?

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2125

I know this is a question that many bloggers have.  In fact, I have been approached by a few asking that very question.

My answer is pretty simple and elaborated as part of a guest blogging spot last week.

Now comes a case with a result I had never seen before-a Plaintiff was awarded $60,000 in a case against a blogger even though the blogger was telling the truth.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which also filed a brief in support of the blogger, details the circumstances that led to the award.  In brief, plaintiff Jerry Moore was hired by the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center to study mortgage foreclosures.  After a blogger, John Hoff (who blogs under the Johnny Northside pseudonym for a blog entitled “The Adventures of Johnny Northside”), learned about Mr. Moore’s hiring, he blogged about it and stated that Mr. Moore had been part of a “high-profile fraudulent mortgage.”  The day after the post, Mr. Moroe was fired by the university.

After trial, the jury agreed that Mr. Hoff’s blog was truthful.  The jury however, also found that while Mr. Moore did not establish a defamation claim, he actually had proven that the blog post interfered with Mr. Moore’s employment with the University.

This result is highly unusual.  The good news is that: (i) Hoff is appealing and (ii) this case will probably have little effect on cases elsewhere.  The troublesome part is that a jury found and a judge agreed that a blogger could be held liable for blogging the truth.  Such a ruling could dampen rights of the press and keep ordinary citizens from reporting the truth.

We’ll keep an eye on this to see what happens with the appeal.  Without an intimate knowledge of Minnesota state law, it is difficult to opine with precision what will happen on appeal.  Nevertheless, I would be surprised if this verdict survives an appeal.  We’ll see.

As always, choose your words carefully and be truthful and 99% of the time, you should be okay.

Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2125

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ben D #

    Also in Minnesota, a defamation plaintiff, whose suit was dismissed, has appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, seeking separate adjudication of the derivative charge interference with business.

    See:

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ZzqilT53-m0J:www.statenewslines.com/X18be7328991b07eb29f26a369556548b+dennis+laurion+duluth+mn&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    http://macsnc.courts.state.mn.us/ctrack/view/publicCaseMaintenance.do?csNameID=71108

    http://www.citmedialaw.org/blog/2011/60000-ruling-against-truthful-blogger-tests-limits-first-amendment (first comment)

    September 15, 2011
  2. Ben-thanks for your informative comment. This is a dangerous area courts are wading into. It will be interesting to see where the lines are drawn.

    Folks who post falsities online should certainly be held responsible for their actions, but the truth is another story.

    It is an interesting system we live in where a blogger can be held liable for writing the truth, but a review site can escape for harboring comments it knows are false.

    September 15, 2011
  3. Harry #

    I clicked Ben’s link http://macsnc.courts.state.mn.us/ctrack/view/publicCaseMaintenance.do?csNameID=71108 , and it has updated to show that an appeal hearing will be held 11/10/11 at 10:05 AM in the Duluth Court House. The Minnesota Court of Appeals usually renders a decision w/i 90 days.

    September 16, 2011

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