Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’

Blogger Johnny Northside Victorious on Appeal – $60K Award Struck Down

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

An appeals court in Minnesota has struck down a $60,ooo defamation award against blogger  John Hoff (“Johnny Northside” on his blog). In doing so, the appeals court did what appeals courts are supposed to do – correct erroneous actions of trial courts.

Citizen Media Law Project’s blog has the full story and an analysis of the legal aspects: Justice Delayed But Not Denied – Appellate Court Overturns $60K Verdict Against Blogger for Posting “Not False” Information

Prior coverage on Blog Law Blog:

Trial Court Upholds $60K Award Against Johnny Northside

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011
Landmark building at the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota (Photo: EEJ)

Judge Denise Reilly in Minneapolis has upheld a jury verdict requiring blogger John Hoff (a/k/a “Johnny Northside”) to pay $60,000 for his blogging about Jerry Moore. This is a setback for free speech and bloggers’ rights, but I believe Hoff will eventually win this suit on appeal.

Moore worked at UMinn’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center where his job was studying home foreclosures. The dispute started when Hoff took to his Adventures of Johnny Northside blog to accuse Moore of involvement in a “high-profile fraudulent mortgage.” Moore was then immediately terminated by UMinn. Moore then sued Hoff.

The crazy thing about the story is that what Hoff wrote was true.

Truth, as you probably know, is a defense to defamation. But Moore’s cause of action wasn’t defamation; it was “tortious interference” with contract and prospective economic advantage.

Economic interference claims reside in the backwater of tort law. Most law-school classes in torts don’t bother to cover them. But the reality is that they are well-used in the courts. (I teach torts, and yes, I do teach economic interference.)

Based on claims of tortious economic interference, the Minneapolis jury awarded Moore $35,000 for lost salary and $25,000 for emotional distress. Real money, obviously.

Of course, not all jury verdicts become executable judgments. Trial judges can throw them out or reduce them. And appeals courts can overturn them. But we now know that this verdict has taken a big step forward, since the trial judge has approved of it. That means that if Hoff is going to be let off the hook, it will have to be by an appellate court.

An amicus brief [pdf] from the Minnesota Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists argued, correctly in my view, that when a claim is in essence a defamation claim, then the courts should apply the safeguards of defamation law’s defenses – even when the claim is dressed up as one for tortious interference.

The amicus argued:

Outside the context of online publications, Minnesota courts have long held that merely providing truthful information cannot provide the basis for an action for tortious interference with contract or with prospective economic advantage, and both federal and state courts have rejected attempts by plaintiffs to evade the requirements of defamation law with the claim is essentially a defamation claim. … The court should … reject the plaintiff’s attempt to recover under a theory of tortious interference when that claim is based upon the same statement as his failed claim for defamation.

Unfortunately, this argument didn’t carry the day. At least not yet.

Hoff’s lawyer has vowed to appeal, and I think Hoff’s chances on appeal are excellent.

The correct view of the law is that the First Amendment protects what Hoff did here. And I think we can count on the courts to uphold that view. Consider that the U.S. Supreme Court held just this year that the First Amendment was effective in shielding the way-out-there members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who were found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress when they picketed funerals of fallen soldiers with hate-filled signs such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” (Snyder v. Phelps, No. 09–751 [pdf])

The way I see it, if there’s a First Amendment for Fred Phelps, then there’s just got to be one for Johnny Northside.

Sean Harrington on Righthaven, barratry, and champerty

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I’ve just come across a nice blog post on Righthaven, written by law student Sean Harrington and published on the official blog of the Minnesota State Bar Associations’s Computer and Technology Law Section:

Harrington has a quick analysis of what is happening with two antique defenses that are getting a workout by Righthaven copyright-infringement defendants: champerty and barratry. The post also provides some brief analysis of the relation of Perfect 10 v. Amazon case to Righthaven litigation against someone whose website/blogging platform displayed inline-linked images.

Johnny Northside Trial has Begun

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Minneapolis courthouse (on left) where Moore v. Hoff is now taking place (Photo: EEJ)

The civil defamation trial of blogger John Hoff, known as “Johnny Northside,” has begun in a Hennepin County court in Minneapolis.

Plaintiff Jerry Moore is seeking $50,000 in damages against Hoff, the proprietor of The Adventures of Johnny Northside blog, claiming that Hoff got Moore fired from his job at the Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center at the University of Minnesota because of a 2009 post accusing Moore of being involved in a “high-profile fraudulent mortgage.”

Hoff told Abby Simons of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “My defense is the truth.”

“I’m not being sued because I defamed anybody. I was sued to shut me up,” he said.

Last week the judge ruled that Moore was a “limited-purpose public figure.” This is a huge victory for a defendant in a defamation case. It doesn’t win the case by itself, but it goes a long way.

The First Amendment requires public figures to prove “actual malice” to win a defamation suit. This means that Moore will be held to a very high standard of proof in the suit. It won’t be enough to show that Hoff was careless with the facts; Moore will have to show that Hoff either knew that what he wrote was false or that he wrote with reckless disregard of whether or not it was false.

And, of course, if it was the truth, then Hoff has it in the bag.

Hoff is reporting about the trial on his blog, where he calls it “[t]he blogosphere trial of the century.”

I don’t know about that, but I like Hoff’s defiant sentiment, which he posted today:

“They will stop my blogging when they pry the password from my cold, dead brain.”