The Volokh Conspiracy

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No Preliminary Injunctions Against Libel

Another court opinion reinforces this principle -- even if repetition of libelous statements can be forbidden after a trial on the merits at which the statements are found libelous, it can't be preliminarily enjoined before such a trial.


So holds yesterday's Georgia Court of Appeals decision in Hartman v. PIP-Group, LLC:

[The trial court] granted PIP's motion for injunctive relief, directing Hartman to remove podcasts and posts from certain websites and prohibiting Hartman from making oral or written statements about PIP that could be interpreted as defamatory or irreparably harmful….

[T]he trial court erred by requiring Hartman to remove his past speech from certain websites because a factfinder has not decided whether Hartman's statements are false or defamatory. We have found no Georgia case upholding an interlocutory injunction prohibiting speech. Our Supreme Court has noted that although "it has never been held that all injunctions against publication are impermissible," such an injunction has been upheld only when it "was entered subsequent to a verdict in which a jury found that statements made by [the defendant] were false and defamatory." High Country Fashions v. Marlenna Fashions, 257 Ga. 267, 268 (1987) (citations and punctuation omitted).

For similar decisions, see, e.g., Hill v. Petrotech Resources Corp. (Ky. 2010): ("[A]n injunction against false, defamatory speech" is allowed "only upon a final judicial determination that the speech is false. … Until such determination of falsity, however, [the Kentucky Constitution's analog to the Free Speech Clause] is best interpreted as proscribing a preliminary restraint upon the alleged defamatory speech. … Neither a restraining order … nor a temporary injunction … may be used to enjoin allegedly defamatory speech."); Balboa Island Inn, Inc. v. Lemen (Cal. 2007) ("A preliminary injunction poses a danger that permanent injunctive relief does not; that potentially protected speech will be enjoined prior to an adjudication on the merits of the speaker's or publisher's First Amendment claims.").