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Injunction Against "Harassing" Online Speech Struck Down on First Amendment Grounds

"We cannot adopt the trial court's preference to treat a [personal protection order], which in this case is a prior restraint on ... speech, as a means 'to help supplement the rules that we all live in society by.' The First Amendment ... demands that we not treat such speech-based injunctions so lightly."

From TM v. MZ, a published Michigan Court of Appeals opinion that is dated Tuesday but that was just released to the parties this morning:

Petitioner TM and respondent MZ are neighbors in Cottrellville Township, Michigan. Respondent is a former trustee of Cottrellville Township and petitioner also has had some involvement in local politics, presently as a member of the Township Parks and Recreation Board. She also has participated in successful recalls of respondent and the supervisor of Cottrellville Township.

TM and MZ had "an acrimonious past," which culminated in MZ's posting various "negative comments about petitioner on Facebook, and through private messages" to third parties, including (in the words of TM's petition),

  • July 6, 2015: [Respondent] made several comments on a post in the St. Clair County, Michigan page on Facebook, including but not limited to; calling me a criminal, accusing me of hiding criminals, having illegal trailers on my property, posting pictures of my yard, [stating] that I meet the requirements of "hurting someone" and that I'm a criminal.
  • July 6, 2015: [Respondent] sent a private Facebook message to multiple people, with regards to the above mentioned comments made on the St. Clair County, Michigan page, saying that I am criminal, I hide criminals, and saying things about the death of my son, which were not only derogatory and disgusting, but were complete lies, and how it was because of my parenting. These comments were in addition to other things.
  • May 4, 2015: [Respondent] posted on his Facebook page a picture of a car and a letter with a heading of "Attempted abduction in St. Clair Count [sic], Please share this Info!" Respondent then commented on the post that if there were any questions about the vehicle to join the St. Clair County, Michigan Facebook group. [Respondent] also commented on this post that the driver of the vehicle "was involved in a form of attempted abduction of a child" and further down [respondent] commented "I actually saw a similar vehicle at [TM's address], where it was there only a couple of minutes." This is my address. [Respondent] also made a comment on the post about the car on the St. Clair County, Michigan Facebook page wherein he stated "a vehicle just like that was at [petitioner's address] today ... It watched my home, and then pulled into [petitioners's address]- an address notorious for everything from crime to severe ordinance violations that never go away. It was only there for a few minutes."
  • April 22, 2015: [Respondent] made a comment on a post about a stolen bbq to "Go look at [petitioner's address]... It is a virtual junk yard of items picked up from the garbage of other[s]".
  • September 7, 2014: [Respondent] commented on a post in the St. Clair County, Michigan Facebook page about motorcycles stolen out of Auburn Hills, "... my neighbor is at [petitioner's address]... I saw them burning parts and burying them illegally in the ground before. I will be on the lookout for you."
  • August 10, 2014: [Respondent] wrote a post on the Facebook Cottrellville Township, Michigan page that included stating we had a "junkyard" and "two illegal commercial trailers". [Respondent] then made a comment on his post stating "... Bob confirmed there is [sic] severe blight and health violations at [petitioner's address]... " Respondent later puts a comment on his post with a Court Case [identification] number to look me up in the court docket. Respondent later comments on his post that I was taken to court and at one time had 12 vehicles in my front yard.
  • June 2, 2014: [Respondent] commented on a post on the St. Clair County, Michigan Facebook page saying that my yard is used as an "illegal junkyard" and posts the link to a video.
  • July 24, 2014: [Respondent] sent a message to a private citizen making derogatory comments including that "that family is into drugs."

Also, in the court's words, "in a Facebook message to an undisclosed recipient on July 6, 2015, respondent shared his comments and opinions on petitioner's parenting abilities, specifically accusing petitioner of allowing her children to partake of illegal drugs, and also discussed the alleged circumstances of her son's death."

TM petitioned for a personal protection order against MZ, and the trial court agreed; the order barred MZ from "stalking as defined under MCL 750.411h and MCL 750.411i," and from "posting a message through the use of any medium of communication, including the Internet or a computer or any electronic medium, pursuant to MCL 750.411s[.]," which likely meant that MZ couldn't say further things like the ones he had posted. (I set aside here the separate question whether the order was unconstitutionally vague.)

The court of appeals held the order was unconstitutional:

We do not disagree with the petitioner or the trial court that respondent's statements often were inappropriate, at times crude, and even sometimes, with respect to the death of petitioner's son, offensive. Inappropriate, crude, and offensive language, however, is not necessarily excepted from constitutional protection.

Thus, we cannot adopt the trial court's preference to treat a PPO, which in this case is a prior restraint on respondent's speech, as a means "to help supplement the rules that we all live in society by." The First Amendment to the United States Constitution demands that we not treat such speech-based injunctions so lightly.

The court first held that the speech could be enjoined if it fit within one of the First Amendment exceptions, and concluded that MZ's speech did not so fit:

In this case, petitioner sought a PPO pursuant to MCL 600.2950a, which allows for "an independent action to obtain ... a [PPO] to restrain or enjoin an individual from engaging in conduct that is prohibited under ... MCL 750.411h, 750.44li, and 750.411s." In order to warrant a PPO pursuant to MCL 600.2950a, the petition must "allege[] facts that constitute stalking as defined in section 411h or 411i, or conduct that is prohibited under section 411s, of the Michigan penal code .... " ...

Conduct prohibited by MCL 750.411s includes posting "a message through the use of any medium of communication ... without the victim's consent, if ... [t]he person knows or has reason to know that posting the message could cause 2 or more separate noncontinuous acts of unconsented contact with the victim," and, by posting the message, the person "intended to cause conduct that would make the victim feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested." The statute also requires proof that conduct arising from posting the message would cause a reasonable person, and did cause the victim, to "suffer emotional distress and to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested."

However, MCL 750.411s "does not prohibit constitutionally protected speech or activity." Therefore, in order to warrant a PPO pursuant to MCL 600.2950a(l), the trial court had to find that respondent's postings—his speech—were not constitutionally protected....

[T]he "right to speak freely is not absolute." ... Prohibitions relating to content, however, are few, due to the First Amendment's "bedrock principle" that an idea cannot be prohibited "simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." ... "The First Amendment permits restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas, which are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality." Thus, the First Amendment does not protect obscenity or defamation, within certain limits. "A State may punish those words which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace," including "fighting words," "inciting or producing imminent lawless action," and "true threat[s]." ...

Respondent's Facebook posts and messages, quite clearly, were not "fighting words," did not "incit[e] or produc[e] imminent lawless action," and were not "true threat[s]." Id. Fighting words include" 'those personally abusive epithets which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, are, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke violent reaction ....'" There is nothing in the record to support, when respondent made any of the foregoing statements, he did so in a situation where it was "inherently likely to provoke violent reaction," considering he made the statements on the internet, in a public forum, far removed from any potential violence.

A "true threat," meanwhile, "encompass[es] those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals." While respondent's posts were undoubtedly in poor taste and offensive, they did not reach the level of intending the commission of an unlawful act of violence.

Further, respondent's statements did not "incit[e] or produc[e] imminent lawless action ...." The closest that respondent's speech came to that standard was his assertion that someone should "[g]o look at" petitioner's address in search of a stolen grill. That statement was not likely to incite illegal activities, because "looking at" an individual's house, yard, or property, is not illegal. Had respondent urged the individual to break in petitioner's house or to otherwise trespass on her property, there would be a legitimate question regarding whether his speech was protected. As the record stands, there was no such suggestion by respondent..

The trial court noted that respondent's statements regarding petitioner's alleged illegal activities, the most serious of which was involvement in a kidnapping, likely would have produced unconsented contact from the community. Regardless of the veracity of that assertion by the trial court, the United States Supreme Court has determined in similar cases that respondent's speech still was protected. See Org for a Better Austin v Keefe, (1971) (holding that First Amendment protection applied to the distribution of leaflets even where those leaflets accused an individual of racism, provided personal information about the person including his telephone number, and urged the recipients of the leaflets to contact him); see also NAACP v Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982) (holding that "[s]peech does not lose its protected character," even where the speech involved publicly listing the names of individuals that did not participate in a boycott, which undoubtedly was meant to lead to unconsented contact with those individuals, so as to "persuade [them] to join the boycott through social pressure and the 'threat' of social ostracism.").

At its very base, the exception to the First Amendment for incitement of imminent lawless action requires that the incitement be for actually illegal actions, not just inconvenient or aggravating ones. "There is no categorical 'harassment exception' to the First Amendment's free speech clause." Saxe v State College Area Sch Dist. (3d Cir. 2001) (opinion by Alito, J.). Here, the record does not support that respondent's statements were intended to incite imminent lawless action.

Now some of the speech might have been defamatory, but the court made clear that "anti-harassment" or "anti-stalking" restraining orders can't be used as an end run around the various rules that limit defamation claims:

Considering that these exceptions to constitutionally protected speech do not apply in the instant case, the only remaining prohibiting category that might be applicable is that the speech was defamatory.... A defamatory statement, by its very definition, is one that is false. Edwards v Detroit News, Inc, 322 Mich App l, 12; 910 NW2d 394 (2017). "To be considered defamatory, statements must assert facts that are 'provable as false.'" ...

Here, the trial court never made a determination whether the accusations made by respondent were false. When respondent stated that he could offer proof that his statements were true, the trial court refused to consider the evidence or to hold an evidentiary hearing.

The trial court reasoned that an inquiry regarding falsity was unnecessary because, in the court's own words, "I don't believe because of [petitioner's] status that truth is an absolute defense to this. and so I'm going to deny your request for an evidentiary hearing because I don't think there's any need to do that." The trial court also stated, when discussing respondent's accusation that petitioner had assisted in a kidnapping, "whether or not that actually happened, I don't think that's the standard."

The trial court was incorrect. "Truth is an absolute defense to a defamation claim." The rule applies even where the person who allegedly has been defamed is a private citizen and the alleged defamer is not a member of the media. Thus, in order for respondent's statements to have been considered defamatory they must have been determined to be false, and the trial court, detem1ining that such an inquiry was unnecessary, refused to accept evidence on the issue or to even make the determination. Consequently, we have not been provided with a record that would allow for us to make a determination whether respondent's statements were defamatory.

The court also noted, but held that it need not resolve, the possibility that under the Michigan Constitution PPOs, which are issued without jury findings, can't be used to restrict even speech that the judge does find to be false and defamatory:

Because the trial court failed to make the inquiry into falsity, the PPO must be vacated. Therefore, it would be unnecessary to consider whether, pursuant to Mich. Const. 1963, art 1, § 19, the trial court is permitted to make such a determination. That constitutional provision provides that "[i]n all prosecutions for libels the truth may be given in evidence to the jury ...." This Court and the Michigan Supreme Court previously have indicated that Const. 1963, art I, § 19, could apply in civil cases. Whether the constitutional provision at issue would apply in a PPO case is a determination for another day.

The court summarized:

[The relevant] statute "does not prohibit constitutionally protected speech or activity." ... Constitutionally protected speech includes all speech, but for that speech that falls into certain categories, including defamation, fighting words, inciting imminent lawless action, and true threats.

Respondent's speech did not amount to fighting words, inciting lawless action, or true threats. It was not enough to show that respondent's words amounted to harassment or obnoxiousness. Therefore, the only possible category remaining to the trial court that would not be considered constitutionally protected speech was defamation. The trial court's failure to assess whether respondent's statements were true or false, or to accept evidence on the issue, renders review of that issue impossible..... Absent a violation of MCL 750.411s, there were no grounds on which to enter the PPO....

And the court added that the PPO was also "an unconstitutional prior restraint": Whether or not injunctions against defamation are ever allowed, any such injunction would

first require[] a determination by a factfinder that the statements were definitively false, and then specifically limit[] any injunction to the adjudicated speech. As discussed [above], the trial court failed to make such a determination in this case. Therefore, regardless of whether the modem trend [in favor of allowing some injunctions against defamation] or the rule announced in [a 1966 case, rejecting such injunctions], is adopted, the issuance of the PPO here, because of the trial court's failure to determine that the speech actually was false, fails to overcome the "heavy presumption against its constitutional validity."

Sounds exactly right to me. I should note that, with the invaluable help of local counsel Michael F. Smith, my Scott & Cyan Banister First Amendment Clinic student Ryan Vanderlip and I filed an amicus brief—on behalf of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment and Prof. Aaron H. Caplan—supporting this result. Congratulations also to MZ's lawyer, Philip L. Ellison, who has litigated this case from trial to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court (on a procedural question related to mootness, on which he won) and now back to the Court of Appeals; and thanks to Deborah David, John Weston, Dale Cohen, and Patrick Goodman for their help mooting me for the oral argument.

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  • Eddy||

    Just one incidental question:

    "We do not disagree with the petitioner" etc.

    What's the difference between "agree" and "do not disagree"?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Meh.

  • JonFrum||

    The construction is usually used with a following qualifier - in this case, 'however.' It's just a way to emphasize the 'on the one hand .... on the other' element. Here: we do not disagree on 'x,' but we do disagree on 'y.'

    In other words, just a style choice.

  • Eugene Volokh||

    Indeed, though I'd say that it's a style choice that aims at a particular emphasis. The court had in mind, I think, something like,

    We disagree not with the petitioner's or the trial court's view that respondent's statements often were inappropriate, at times crude, and even sometimes, with respect to the death of petitioner's son, offensive, but rather with the view that inappropriate, crude, and offensive language, however, is necessarily excepted from constitutional protection.

    But because this would be a pretty complicated sentence, the court split it up this way (and here I quote from the opinion):

    We do not disagree with the petitioner or the trial court that respondent's statements often were inappropriate, at times crude, and even sometimes, with respect to the death of petitioner's son, offensive. Inappropriate, crude, and offensive language, however, is not necessarily excepted from constitutional protection.

    That, it seems to me, is a sensible way of putting things, to emphasize not the agreement (as "We agree with ..." might), but rather the nature of the disagreement.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

    I've always read that as the difference between < and <=, which is more subtle when translated from math to linguistics.

  • JonFrum||

    "Respondent's Facebook posts and messages, quite clearly, were not "fighting words,"

    Funny - I was thinking just the opposite. At some point you need to send a guy to feed-him-through-a-tube-land. This is teetering on the edge. You wanna mess? Let's mess.

  • Black Bellamy||

    The fighting words standard is based on what a reasonable man would do. If you want to put someone in a coma based on what was written above, then clearly you are not reasonable.

  • David Nieporent||

    Although it has never been formally restricted by the Court in this way, it's virtually impossible for unprotected fighting words to be anything other than face to face.

  • Krayt||

    For that matter, if you say something so outrageous in someone's face they pop you in the nose, it should be a valid defense for them, but not a justification for government censorship.

  • AustinRoth||

    WHAT?? Feelings don't mean more than the Constitution?

    Democrats, other Leftists, SJW's and NPC's most butt-hurt by this ruling.

  • tkamenick||

    I keep seeing "TMZ" every time I try to read this.

  • Michael Zoran||

    Thank you for your help representing me, Eugene. You did an excellent job, and so did attorney Philip L. Ellison. I congratulate both of you for standing up for Free Speech, the First Amendment, and the Constitution.

  • Eugene Volokh||

    My pleasure! But I should note that, to be precise (even if perhaps verging on the pedantic), I was representing my clients, the Pennsylvania Center and Prof. Aaron Caplan, though our amicus brief was in support of your position.

  • DASGUY||

    Mr. Zoran, we don't know each other, but may I suggest you be a little nicer in the future? Thanks.

  • Beldar||

    Sounds exactly right to me.

    Ditto. Congratulations!

  • Longtobefree||

    Clearly what is needed is common sense speech control.
    The first amendment needs the same protections as the second; a license issued by duly constituted authority, accompanied by sufficient fees and forms and fingerprints and mandatory classes to insure this kind of abuse never happens again. And age limits, of course; for the children.

  • Krayt||

    Your sarcasm assumes a rabid anti-gun person won't look at that and say, "Uhh, ok!", lest the philosophy get in their way.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Another case of internet weaponized speech, as always, cheered on by folks who itch to publish defamation and get away with it. And also, as always, supported by pre-internet precedents.

    The internet is not nothing. It is a new thing in the world—for the first time putting unedited, cost-free, anonymous, world-wide publishing at the fingertips of people who could never, prior to the internet, have seen their swill published, even locally. That was good.

    Folks who cheer on this kind of speech may suppose that in doing so they are furthering free speech principles. They are not. They are bringing free speech into disrepute in ways which will make it harder, not easier, to defend. Defending that is unwise.

  • David Nieporent||

    I knew that the post would be like sending up the Lathrop signal, for him to post this inane rant that he must have created a macro for. It has literally nothing to do with this post, as this is neither defamation nor anonymous speech and the CDA has nothing to do with it, and of course the only purpose of freedom speech principles is to protect "disreputable" speech.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    . . . and of course the only purpose of freedom speech principles is to protect "disreputable" speech.

    And from there, many folks skip directly to a perverse conclusion that the worst speech is the speech the nation ought to value most. You are almost there yourself.

    No, Nieporent. The purpose of freedom of speech is to prevent the government from censoring speech. That is a great good which comes with a collateral cost—the need to tolerate bad speech, including much bad speech which, on balance, is harmful enough to subtract from the weight of the good. But still, we think, a net good, worth the tolerating.

    So what happens when majorities change their minds, and conclude that if what Volokh is defending here is free speech, they want no part of free speech? That's the direction in which heedless support for the new phenomenon of weaponized internet publishing is pushing the nation.

  • David Nieporent||

    No, Nieporent. The purpose of freedom of speech is to prevent the government from censoring speech.

    And the speech the government censors is "bad speech" -- that which offends people. China doesn't -- and didn't, not even in Mao's time -- trouble people about saying nice pleasant innocuous things.

    Your problem is that you mistakenly think that "bad speech" and "good speech" are objective categories, rather than conclusory labels for speech that people like and don't like.

    That's the direction in which heedless support for the new phenomenon of weaponized internet publishing is pushing the nation.

    Empirically silly. There are plenty of people who want to place limits on speech -- whether it be SJWs on the left or MAGA "Patriots" on the right -- but none of them are upset about "weaponized Internet publishing." That's just your hobby horse. They're worried about Megyn Kelly saying things on TV or NFL players kneeling at football games, not about Michael Zoran criticizing his neighbor.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    . . . and the CDA has nothing to do with it . . .

    Pre-CDA, Michael Zoran could never have found a publisher. The fact that the lower court in this case did not trouble itself to settle the potential defamation issues, has no bearing on what a publisher with self-interest to defend would conclude. This is all about the CDA and the internet. Get rid of the CDA, and nobody could find a publisher for stuff like this, even on the internet, except by getting his own domain name, and becoming his own publisher—which I would be fine with. Because without the CDA, Mr. Zoran would get the message to improve his product quick enough.

  • David Nieporent||

    Zoran didn't find a publisher. He posted things on Facebook, which acts as a distributor, not a publisher. Once again, though, you advocate for censorship, despite (or because of) the fact that the speech is fully protected.

    There's no evidence that this has anything to do with the Internet, in any case. There's no reason to think that the plaintiff would have been any less upset if the defendant had "become his own publisher" and posted these things about him.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Nieporent, Facebook is a publisher. Its own lawyers have said so. Court cases prior to passage of the CDA would have adjudicated it a publisher. The CDA was passed expressly to overturn for the future one such case which a court had decided.

    That was a blunder in Congress, as attested by the fact that the internet now drowns in swill of a sort almost never seen pre-CDA. Cases of the sort Volokh repeatedly examples here have become common—even commonplace. That has created a crisis increasingly widely recognized, and ever-more urgently discussed—too often discussed in terms of advocacy for government censorship, which I oppose.

    Your last sentence is foolish, and you should re-think it. Absent the CDA, had Zoran paid you for legal advice on whether to publish himself what he did publish on Facebook, you would have advised him to go ahead and publish only at the double risk of his financial ruin, and your own license to practice law.

    Nothing I say is ever pro-censorship. It is to avoid a massive increase in censorship that I advocate a return to the practice of private editing. It was customary practice of private editing—and the law's tacit reliance on it—which vindicated the 1A's promise of press freedom in the first place.

  • David Nieporent||

    That was a blunder in Congress, as attested by the fact that the internet now drowns in swill of a sort almost never seen pre-CDA

    Your arguments are getting sillier every day. The CDA was enacted in 1996. Before 1996, there barely was an Internet as we now know it; the first public web browsers were only a few years older, and of course other than college students, the handful of people on the web were using dialup access. So there wasn't much of anything, good or bad, on the Internet pre-CDA. (But pre-CDA Internet forums like Usenet were not high-caliber Oxbridge debating societies.)

    Your last sentence is foolish, and you should re-think it. Absent the CDA, had Zoran paid you for legal advice on whether to publish himself what he did publish on Facebook, you would have advised him to go ahead and publish only at the double risk of his financial ruin, and your own license to practice law.

    Your legal acumen is as strong as ever. Everything you say here is wrong, because you still—despite repeatedly ranting about the CDA—don't understand it. Zoran's liability with and without the CDA is identical. And giving bad advice does not affect one's license to practice law. (Just one's malpractice premiums.)

  • David Nieporent||

    Nothing I say is ever pro-censorship. It is to avoid a massive increase in censorship that I advocate a return to the practice of private editing. It was customary practice of private editing—and the law's tacit reliance on it—which vindicated the 1A's promise of press freedom in the first place.

    All of your arguments are pro-censorship. You still do not grasp that defamation liability is government censorship. (And this isn't an anomaly; you also oppose free speech in schools. And support an extremely narrow version of fair use.)

    Court cases prior to passage of the CDA would have adjudicated it a publisher.

    Wrong. See Cubby v. Compuserve. (The CDA was actually passed to allow sites to edit or filter content without fear of liability.)

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    All of your arguments are pro-censorship. You still do not grasp that defamation liability is government censorship.

    Thank you for that, Nieporent. Finally, you say forthrightly that your free speech commentary is founded on a pro-defamation premise. I could not disagree more.

    Defamation is not 1A protected speech, which you know. So your quarrel is with the 1A itself, which is the next thing you ought to say forthrightly. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say your quarrel is with centuries of law regarding defamation, including the customary use of that body of precedent to bound the meaning of the 1A.

    Anyway, you have confessed a radical position which almost no one in the legal community, or the publishing community, will support.

    Without understanding why, you have announced yourself as an enemy of free speech as a public value. Social support for publishing freedom can never withstand any regime in which defamation is legal and accepted. People will not stand for it, and never have. In the past, in the absence of effective legal protection against defamation, they simply killed each other, with society's approval. You may prefer a return to that. Not many will join you.

    We need not continue these discussions.

  • David Nieporent||

    Your argument is doubly wrong. The categorical statement that defamation is not protected by the 1A manages to continue your years-long ignorance of NY Times v. Sullivan and its progeny.

    And I did not say that defamation is necessarily protected by the 1A. I said that defamation liability is government censorship. Two different statements. The government is allowed to censor certain things — e.g., child porn, obscenity, some defamation, some incitement, some fighting words — but the fact that the government is allowed to do so does not mean that the government is not engaging in censorship when it does so. The government censors things in those categories.

    But what the government cannot do is engage in prior restraint. The government cannot tell Zoran that he can't publish things because they might be defamatory. And yet you want to empower the government to do indirectly what it can't do directly; what you advocate is that websites be threatened with monetary sanctions by the government to coerce those websites to prevent people from posting on those sites. Not to compensate for any damages caused by prior defamation, or to force removal after the fact, but to prevent it from ever being posted in the first place.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Once again, though, you advocate for censorship, despite (or because of) the fact that the speech is fully protected.

    I suppose you mean fully protected under the CDA, without regard to the 1A. Which is a pretty smarmy way to beg the questions raised by my critique of the CDA.

  • David Nieporent||

    You assume incorrectly. I meant protected under the 1A. (As I already explained to you, this isn't a CDA case at all.)

  • JaiJensen||

    Really interesting. Thanks.

  • nailman||

    Does this ruling provide relief in regards to PPO ordered April, 2016 expiring January, 2017?

    Unable to afford an attorney in 2016, I represented myself against a petition brought by the editor of a local newspaper. Although every communication to her and essence of the court dialogue included reference to her role as editor, she filed as an individual, not the semi-public figure she is.

    Her claims of "harassment" focused on emails I sent critical of the paper's editorial bias. She began by filling complaints with the local police of harassment. In statements, she responded to police and admitted I made no threats, etc, nor even or harsh words. Note, the order was a "non-domestic PPO" as no relationship existed between us and I was only in the same room with her once, three years previously in an amicable meeting with her publisher.

    There is much more to the story but the essence is I represented myself in court. Although very prepared, I did not know court procedure and was unable to present any witnesses, document or real evidence refuting the editor's claims.

    Reading the complaints and particulars surrounding TM v MZ, my situation didn't come near the level of acrimony or even inappropriateness and certainly not "fighting words"

    Although the editor petitioned as a private person, the paper published a front page story using the judgement and reasoning to paint me in a negative light.

    Who might I communicate with to see if any form of redress exists for me?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Although the editor petitioned as a private person, the paper published a front page story using the judgement and reasoning to paint me in a negative light.

    Leaving aside the court proceeding, nailman, was anything false said in the newspaper article about you, and not a matter of opinion, but instead a question of fact? Then, taking the court proceeding as it happened, was there any testimony from anyone associated with newspaper in that proceeding? If there was, was any of that testimony about you false, and not a matter of opinion, but instead a question of fact.

    You may be aware that publishers, if they are reporting court proceedings, generally get protection on questions of libel. I have sometimes wondered whether that protection would extend to a court proceeding in which the publisher was a party, and in which the publisher or its representatives made defamatory statements they knew to be false during the proceeding, and then reported the falsehoods which they themselves knowingly said. Hence my questions about your case.

  • nailman||

    Stephen,

    Reading your comments above, you appear to have legal knowledge. Are you an attorney or part of this case and is there a way to contact you other than through comments on this forum? There is a great deal of information relating to my case which exceeding what I can place in a comment.

    Even answering your question includes the word, "depends". There were two hearings. The first to hear the petition for a PPO and the second to hear my motion to rescind. The results of the second hearing were published by the paper.

    "A local judge has kept in place an order to protect a West Michigan journalist from a political activist"

    Details of that article, including the basis for the petition were repeated with falsehoods. Most disturbing is the that the judge allowed the petition to go forward under the guise of the editor (a semi-public figure) as a private citizen. This, when every aspect of the claims was on the basis of editorial content and nothing to do with a non-existent relationship with a private individual.


    .

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