Lawyer Sues Huffington Post Over Article Allegedly Falsely Attributed To Him

290px-Huffington_Post_LogoLawyer Juan Carlos Noriega was apparently a bit surprised by an August 2 article that appeared on Huffington Post. The biggest surprise is that he was listed as the author. The lawyer from Panama is suing Huffington Post, which he claims not only ran the article under his name but then failed to respond to his efforts to have his name removed. He says that the article criticizing the federal government has jeopardized his relationship with the Department of Homeland Security and is suing for $3 million and a full retraction.

Noriega is a named partner at Panama-based Arias, Abrego, Lopez & Noriega specializing in corporate law and international business.

The article dealt with the controversial case of Dr. Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who was arrested in Pakistan after reportedly helping to track down Osama Bin Laden through a fake vaccination program. The article was highly critical of how U.S. officials had responded to Afridi’s arrest.

His complaint alleged that Huffington Post caused him to “suffer loss of personal reputation, embarrassment, personal humiliation, general emotional distress, and specifically, stress relating to possible negative ramifications on his U.S. travel and work visas.”

His defamation claims are coupled with an allegation of malice by Huffington Post, which has had no response to the allegations. What is interesting is that the defamation claims include statements that are deemed defamatory because they express strong opinions that are not his own. It is a rather novel claim. There is a more direct false light claim as the second count.

Here is the complaint.

Source: Legal Times

20 thoughts on “Lawyer Sues Huffington Post Over Article Allegedly Falsely Attributed To Him

  1. From the complaint:

    “15. Mr. Noriega did not write, submit, or consent to having the article, or his picture, posted on Defendant’s website under his name.

    16. Mr. Noriega does not and has never had an account with The Huffington Post and has never submitted any information, comments, blog-pitches, articles or had any other contact with Defendant or its website.

    17. Mr. Noriega is a private figure and has not sought publicity regarding the issues discussed in the article nor has he sought to influence the outcome of those issues.”

    That ought to make things interesting.

    I’ve said all along that I found HP a good news aggregator for the various news services like AP and Reuters, but their original content and editorial practices have always been suspect.

  2. Knowing little about this type of law, I can’t really make a good comment here but it does seem to me the plaintiff does make a strong argument for his position. It does not help the to have not responded to the plaintiff’s demand for a retraction.

    I would also agree that falsely ascribing words proffered as being the words of another is a form of slander because it can convey wrongdoing by the person.

    For example, it would be an obvious libel to write the untrue statement “Bill sole money from from First National Bank and cannot be trusted.” But is it any different to write another falsehood “Bill says it is easy to steal from the bank, as I have done so”? In both examples there is a common assertion that Bill steals money, even if it is not direct but in offering a false quotation. I believe there is a similar situation with this case.

    As for the actual damage amount, I don’t have enough information to make a judgement. But my intuition is the plaintiff will prevail, barring some “technical issue” that could prevent this.

  3. It’s hard to understand how this came about. It’s hard to understand why Huff Post would not have immediately responded to a communication from him in view of the fact that (a) If he did indeed author the article they would want to provide proof of that facct and (b) if he did NOT author the article they would want to straighten the mistake out as soon as humanly possible.

    Can something this egregious be chalked up to negligence or stupidity?

  4. I think he has a damages problem if the allegations are true. They seem prospective or speculative based on the language in the complaint. Since it wasn’t libel per se they are not presumed and he must prove pecuniary injury. That’s usually the hardest part of any non per se defamation case assuming his novel theory works.

  5. Along the lines of what “the Pigeon” has stated, it seems a bit odd that Huffington did not make a quick retraction and/or correction. The fact that they haven’t suggests that they have compelling evidence that Noriega is not as innocent as he claims. Perhaps he is hustling to damage control in the wake of an unanticipated negative response to what in fact are his words. Or, perhaps this will be a key event in the evolving online publishing /privacy et al debates.

  6. Like Balanced and Clothilde Pigeon,

    I think there is something strange going on in that the facts given and the complaint by Mr. Noriega leave much to speculate upon. Were’s what I wonder about:

    1. Is Mr. Noriega that prominent in international legal circles that his authorship of an article would be seen as authoritative?

    2. Is it reasonable to assume/presume that Huff Post would have some gain, material, political and/or revenge motivated for publishing an article such as this under Mr. Noriega’s name?

    3. Is it possible that Huff Post is a victim of a hoax by people with malice towards Mr. Noriega?

    4. If number 3 is true, then who would the people behind the hoax be ad what is their motivation?

    5. Is it possible that Mr. Noriega actually did register with Huff Post, wrote the article and has received negative feedback so detrimental to his practice, that he is trying to find a way out by repudiating the article.

    This all in all is a strange tale. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me that Huff Post would have knowingly published an article under a wrong name and biography. My reason is I can see the benefit to them. If that’s true then Huff Post has been a victim of deception, who, or what entity would gain from such a deception and what is the nature of the “gain”? Given the international flavor running through this case I would think that it is possible that this is the result of some sort of “disinformation gambit” though on the part of who I can’t say.

    Now as to whether this can be construed as libel I would think it can be so construed providing that the elements can be proven. There would be the element of malice, which I think was established in “Times v Sullivan”. I read the complaint and it seems to me that there were no real allegations of malice by Huff Post, save for their lack of response to Noriega’s lawyer, which I don’t think can be construed as such.

    Also as Mespo had pointed out the element of damages would be quite difficult to prove except by speculation on what future damage this would cause Mr. Noriega’s career. My guess is that this case could be easily settled by a Huff Post retraction, apology and results of their investigation on how this came to pass. The “kicker” is though if there was o hoax and Mr. Noriega is retracting/denying his article under duress. A very interesting case.

  7. Would I put it past someone in our government to post something like this? Do they have a tendency to assassinate character…..

  8. “I like your “cui bono” analysis.”


    Besides once sleeping at a holiday In Express, I did have 2 1/2 years of night Law School before flunking out. Damn that Y State Property Law! :)

  9. mespo nails it–I don’t see any provable damages. also agree with those who think this is rather odd. What’s huffpo’s motivation for fabricating the authorship of this article, and why no correction? Must be more to the story.

  10. I can see why he is in a Huff. Someone posted a comment above: “According to Fox News… ” In my view if Fox and the fair and balanced crowd criticizes some other news agency then you must reverse whatever it is they say in order to stay fair and balanced.

    I read Huffington Post. It is a nicely organized web news outlet that has some good variety of content. Lately, if one tries to read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and some others, one is barraged with requests to buy their damn website. Their website, like their newspaper, is full of ads and little interruptions at each step of the navigation.

  11. Interesting case, but I too wonder if we are getting all of the facts. The damages issue will be a big one as others have mentioned, but the fact that Huffington Post didn’t retract yet makes me wonder if there is more here than meets the eye.

  12. raff/Mike/mespo,

    I don’t think this is going to get to a damages phase. The discovery involving the computer forensics will probably end this one way or another early.

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