Category: Torts

The Washington Post Settles With Nicholas Sandmann

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The Washington Post settled a lawsuit filed by the family of a teenager Nicholas Sandmann who was falsely labeled a racist who aggressively attacked an elderly Native American activist during a visit to the Lincoln Memorial with his high school class. The false account of the incident was widely circulated in the media. He was attacked on networks like MSNBC and CNN as well as in newspapers like the Post. He sued the Washington Post for $250 million but the settlement terms were not disclosed.

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Joy Reid Loses To La Liberte: MSNBC Host Creates New Precedent Binding Media

MSNBC’s Joy Reid has two notable developments this week. She was named as the new nightly anchor to replace Chris Matthews and was lost a major appeal in a defamation lawsuit tied to her prior position.  Reid has a history of controversial statement including her insistence that her posts on her blog with homophobic comments were fabricated by hackers.  She later apologized for the postings that she claimed that she made. She acknowledged “I can definitely understand, based on things I have tweeted and have written in the past, why some people don’t believe me.”  She was sued in one of the most notorious postings on social media by Roslyn La Liberte, a Trump supporter, who was trashed by Reid for comments that she never made and an account that proved to be untrue.  Reid relied on California’s Anti-Slapp statute and immunity arguments to try to force La Liberte out of court, even though she again later apologized. Now the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has handed down a major ruling against Reid that could undermine future defenses by media figures. Continue reading “Joy Reid Loses To La Liberte: MSNBC Host Creates New Precedent Binding Media”

New York Professor Faces Latest Termination Petition Over Allegedly Falling Asleep During Anti-Racism Meeting

KDgxhmwQMzAuTJG-800x450-noPadFor many professors, a story out of New York may seem like an academic sequel to the 1982 horror film “Don’t Go To Sleep.” Students are seeking the termination of Marymount Manhattan Theater Arts Associate Professor Patricia Simon after she appeared to briefly fall asleep during an anti-racist meeting held on Zoom.  Simon denies the allegations but Marymount Manhattan student Caitlin Gagnon started a petition which features this picture and also accuses her of “ignoring … racist and sizeist actions and words of the vocal coaches under her jurisdiction.” The petition has roughly 2000 signatories. It is an ironic twist on the woke movement where literally not being awake is now cause to be terminated. Continue reading “New York Professor Faces Latest Termination Petition Over Allegedly Falling Asleep During Anti-Racism Meeting”

Slander or Opinion? Claims Of Racism and Defamation Fly After Education Council Member Is Seen Bouncing Black Child On Lap

download-4A New York City education council meeting recent attracted national attention after one member of the council (and its past President), Robin Broshi, accused another member,  Thomas Wrocklage, of racism after he was seen in a zoom meeting bouncing a black child on his lap. The video below is rather breathtaking but the incident has led to countervailing claims of racism and slander.  As is often the case, we tend to jump on any novel torts claims and this is a good example of the tension between opinion and slander, particularly in such overheated (indeed radioactive) moments in public debates.  It is unfortunately an increasingly common legal question in today’s rage-filled politics. The video of his meeting has now been shown throughout the world.  However, it has some interesting elements as a pedagogical tool for understanding the underlying applicability of tort liability, or lack thereof.

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“Too Much and Never Enough”: Did Mary Trump Defame The Dead In Her Tell-All Book?

Stepmother Of Ex-Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe Raises Defamation Allegation Over Her Termination

30245586-8476955-image-a-1_1593559010600In a Fox interview last night, the stepmother of ex-Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe raised what clearly sounds like a claim of defamation against her former employer Equity Prime Mortgage in Atlanta.  Melissa Rolfe says that she was fired after her step son was charged with the murder of Rayshard Brooks.  Her firing has been in the news, but the legal standing of Rolfe seemed questionable to challenge the termination. She appears to be an “at will” employee who can ordinarily be fired, as it is often said, for “good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all” (absent the violation of a statutory or constitutional protection).  However, it appears that she may be contemplating a lawsuit based not on the termination by Equity Prime Mortgage but how the company explained the termination after it was criticized for allegedly firing Rolfe simply because of her son.  That could present an interesting defamation action and a cautionary tale for companies in dealing with such high-profile matters.

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NPR Retracts Report That Labelled Louisville Woman As “Right-Wing” Extremist In Fleeing Armed Protester

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Louisville Metro Police Department

NPR is being hammered this week for its reporting on right-wing extremists attacking peaceful protesters.  The news organization previously showed images of a female motorist who struck a protester on Wednesday as an example of “Right-wing extremists are turning cars into weapons.”  Despite the video released quickly by the police (and the fact that police found she was fleeing a protester with a gun and did not charge her),  the woman was described as part of a pattern of protesters being innocently mowed down.  These cases often raise difficult legal questions in torts on issues of defamation and false light (combining two of the favorite subjects of this blog: media and torts).

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WA Parents File Lawsuit Against Gov. Inslee Alleging Emergency School Closures Are Unconstitutional

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee

Last week several parents on behalf of themselves and their minor children filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the State of Washington seeking injunctive relief and for the Court to declare the closures unconstitutional as the governor’s proclamations violate the “paramount duty on the part of the state to make ‘ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The underlying information alleged within the lawsuit presents facts that Plaintiffs assert demonstrate that the current state of the COVID-19 virus’ threat no longer credibly constitutes an actual emergency and that the governor’s Proclamations as a result lack a foundational basis to remove children from schools. The suit further states the governor applied a wide brush to declare all Washingtonians as being at risk when the epidemiological evidence shows that the COVID-19 infection and death rate mirrors that of Influenza and Pneumonia infection rates of past years yet no public emergency was declared then. Furthermore, the illness and death rate for those less than twenty years in age is non-existent in the state and nearly everywhere else sampled. Plaintiffs proffer that the failing of the governor to limit the scope of application of the Proclamations to those actually vulnerable to the virus, the elderly and sick, infringed upon the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs and other children who have physiologically shown no significant vulnerability to the virus yet suffered the violation of their right to education resulting from an overly-broad inclusion under the declarations of state of emergency.

The complaint also mentions the sub-par nature of the education provided the minor Plaintiffs by the state, equating in one example only an hour of education and that much of what is expected is for grade school children to self-initiate and self direct their own education. One child, resides at times with a parent who has no Internet service at his residence and thus cannot facilitate an ample accomodation to meet the child’s special educational needs.

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Zoom and Doom: Company Accused Of Corrupting Bible Class Through Pornographic Zoombombing

downloadThere is an interesting case out of San Francisco where one of the oldest churches is suing Zoom Video Communications, Inc. after bible classes were interrupted by pranksters “zoombombing” with pornographic images.  Saint Paulus Lutheran Church filed a complaint in federal court to lay the foundation for a class action.

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The Future Of The Economy May Depend On An Ancient Doctrine Of The Past

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942Below is my column in The Hill on the legal foundation for an economic recovery in reopening businesses in the United States.  While some often seem to assume a zero tolerance approach for any risk of spread, we have no choice but to try to get this economy out of the current disastrous conditions.  Unless we want to reintroduce a barter economy, we need to stop the exponential growth of debt coupled with the perilous decline of employment.  The key may be individual choice and an ancient legal doctrine.

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Foreseeable Misuse? Trump’s Suggestion Of Possible Use Of Disinfectant In The Blood Triggers Industry Warnings [Updated]

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The maker of Lysol also issued a statement warning against any internal use  of its disinfectant after President Donald Trump suggested the possibility of an “injection” of disinfectant into victims of the coronavirus.  The warning reflects an interesting legal problem for these companies.  Under product liability rules, a company is liable for the “foreseeable misuse” of its products.  While the intentional ingestion of household cleaners have been a problem in a small number of cases, President Trump’s musing about its use could encourage others to attempt such a home remedy.  We have already seen such poisonings from products ranging from tainted alcohol to fish tank cleaners.  Lysol and other companies have every reason to issue warnings, particularly in the baffling absence of a corrective statement from the White House. Polls show that only 23 percent of viewers have a high level of trust what the President says on the pandemic. That is notably lower than his support in most polls overall. There are still many who trust the President on advice to a moderate or high degree.  Ultimately, this is not about politics.  This type of statement is dangerous for those who do rely on the President for information on the virus. Update: The White House has issued a statement this morning blaming the media for misrepresenting the President’s remarks.

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Oregon Man Throws Firework At Female Friend . . . Causing Four Trucks and A Gas Thief To Catch Fire

In torts exams, professors will often string a series of unexpected events together in a proximate cause scenario. A case out of Oregon seems right out of such an exam narrative. Thomas Hannah, 28, is accused of getting into an argument with a female friend in the parking lot of a U-Haul center in Eugene. He proceeded to light and throw a firework at her, which promptly caused four trucks (and a gas thief) to catch fire.

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Get Thee [Insurance] For It Is Written: Florida Pastor Loses Insurance In Defiance Of Pandemic Order

Call if Luke 4:8 abridged. Jesus said “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God.” We can now add getting insurance behind you. We have discussed the defiance of the pandemic order against groups over 10 people and how Rodney Howard-Browne, the head pastor at the River at Tampa Bay Church, has refused to comply. His holding of large services led to his arrest recently, but Howard-Browne insisted that he would continue to fight against “government tyranny.” He will now have to do so without insurance and that could prove more a far greater challenge than state sanctions.

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“Behold He Who Has Repented of His Sins”: Oregon Women Sues Mormon Church Over Reporting Husband’s Child Abuse

There is an interesting case out of Oregon where the wife of a convicted child sex offender is suing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for contacting police after he confessed to sexually abusing the couple’s daughter. Timothy Samuel Johnson and his wife Kristine Johnson were members of a Stayton “ward” and his wife prompted his going to the church after learning that he had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with a minor known to him.  Kristine Johnson is seeking $9.5 million for the breach of promised confidentiality by a clergy member. It is a fascinating twist on the usual challenge to evidence obtained by police in such clergy cases. Here the defendant is the church itself in a civil action for inducing the disclosure of incriminating information under allegedly false representations of confidentiality. The case could prompt churches and religious organizations to post warnings about their intention to go to police with any allegation of criminal conduct — a notice that could have an impact on the willingness of the faithful to be forthcoming in such confessional settings.

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Trump Attacks Page and Strozk With Disturbing Reference To Alleged Restraining Order

In a highly disturbing moment last night, President Donald Trump launched into an attack on former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI Counterespionage Chief Peter Strozk with a shocking reference to a restraining order that Page allegedly had to take out on Strozk after their affair. President Trump has previously attacked the couple, even mocking them in a made-up, seemingly orgasmic conversation in bed. Those were highly inappropriate and unpresidential moments but this could be defamation, if untrue. [Some media sites like the Daily Beast are saying that the allegation is being denied as untrue] Even if it is not actionable, occupying the space somewhere between defamation and demagoguery is no place for a president. (Note Lisa Page just filed a lawsuit under the Privacy Act on the disclosure of her emails with Strozk).

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Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks