7th Circuit reinstates lawyer's defamation suit over Jezebel blog comment
A Chicago lawyer who alleged he was defamed by a comment to a Jezebel blog story may pursue his claim because he alleged blog employees, rather than readers, helped create and develop at least some of the comments.
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court reinstated lawyer Meanith Huon’s defamation claim in a decision Nov. 14 decision (PDF), Law.com (sub. req.) reports. Jezebel was owned by Gawker Media at the time.
Huon had sued over a Jezebel blog post with the initial headline, “Acquitted Rapist Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist.” The headline was later changed to read, “Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him a Serial Rapist.”
The Jezebel article was about Huon’s defamation suit against Above the Law for its reporting on his rape acquittal. In 2014, U.S. District Judge John Tharp of the Northern District of Illinois dismissed all of the claims against Jezebel and some of the claims against Above the Law. Above the Law settled the remaining claims last year, according to Law.com.
The 7th Circuit opinion by Judge Ann Claire Williams upheld dismissal of defamation claims relating to the Jezebel headline and story. But Williams allowed the claim over a comment to the Jezbel story that sided with the alleged rape victim’s version of events. Huan “is a rapist alright, so we may as well call him one,” the comment alleged.
Williams noted that the Communications Decency Act protects online publishers from defamation suits over comments posted by third-party users. But Huon had claimed Gawker employees may have written some of the comments to increase traffic to its websites. Huon cited a Reuters story saying Gawker had a plan to “monetize” comments, and its commenting system might appeal to advertisers.
Huon is entitled to test the assertion about Gawker’s comment system through discovery, Williams said. “We see nothing farfetched about Huon’s factual allegations—in particular, his contention that one or more of the comments were authored by Gawker employees,” Williams wrote.
Williams also reinstated Huon’s claims of false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying they were allowed because they are tethered to the defamation claim.