Posts Tagged ‘tortious interference’

Blogger Hit with $60,000 Jury Verdict for Blog Postings

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

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A blogger in Minnesota got hit with a $60,000 jury for postings that lead to the firing of an ex-community leader. The most disturbing aspect of this verdict, however, is that according to the Star Tribune Paper, the blogger’s posting were true.

Specifically, the paper notes that blogger John Hoff told the truth when he linked ex-community leader Jerry Moore to a high-profile mortgage fraud and this post lead to Moore’s firing. The paper notes:

District Judge Denise Reilly threw out four of the five statements, saying they were either opinion or the comments of others on the blog. With respect to the remaining statement, the jury agreed with Clark’s claim that Hoff had committed “tortious interference” by meddling with Moore’s employment. Clark pointed out to the jury that Hoff, in a later blog post, took partial credit for Moore’s firing.

Under Michigan law, a “communication is defamatory if, under all the circumstances, it tends to so harm the reputation of any individual that it lowers the individual’s reputation in the community or deters others from associating or dealing with the individual.” Kefgen v Davidson, 241 Mich App 611, 617, 617 NW2d 351 (2000). One of the defenses, however, to a defamation claim is that the defamatory statement was true or substantially true.

Because Mr. Hoff’s statements were reportedly true, the plaintiff used another legal theory – tortious interference – to hold the blogger liable.

Generally, a tortious interference claim involves a plaintiff and a third party who have entered into a contract or an advantageous business relationship. The defendant (in this case the blogger) is not a party to the contract or business relationship, but intentionally commits some improper act that (1) causes a breach of the contract or disruption of the business relationship between the plaintiff and the third party and (2) results in damage to the plaintiff.

My Thoughts

My problem with verdict against Mr. Hoff are twofold:

First, you have a plaintiff who cannot make a claim for defamation apparently because the non-opinion statements were truthful, i.e., a complete defense to defamation. So to get around this issue, another legal claim is used. That legal maneuvering, however, comes at the expense of the First Amendment protections afforded to speech.

Second, in looking at the tortious interference claim, I cannot identify what the “improper act” that was taken. Without an “improper act” you don’t have a claim for tortious inteference. And while the “truth” may hurt, since when has telling the truth ever been improper?

I think this is a legally absurd result that (hopefully) will be reversed on appeal. Feel free to contact me with any questions or share similar experiences. Thanks.