The Volokh Conspiracy

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Grandmother Ordered To Say Nothing About Dispute with Other Grandmother (the Grandchild's Guardian)

No "distribution of information or sharing of her opinion on this matter of any sort."


From Howell-Wright v. Hoover, a temporary injunction in Cherokee County (Okla.) issued last Thursday, the same day the complaint was filed:

Defendant Cheryl Hoover … [is] enjoined from making any public comment, posting, announcement, or distribution of information or sharing of her opinion on this matter of any sort ….

And from the complaint itself:

Defendant has made certain inflammatory, false, libelous, and slanderous statements against the Plaintiff on social media, examples of such are attached as Exhibit A [apparently that Plaintiff is "evil," "lives off her parents and can't keep a career," and is "insane" (possibly meant figuratively)] ….

Defendant's comments have damage[d] Plaintiff's reputation in the community and she has suffered severe mental and emotional distress.

Plaintiff, by nature of her career, is a "Mandatory Reporter" for suspected or perceived child neglect or abuse.

Defendant's comments threaten her career stability.

The dispute apparently stemmed from the guardian grandmother, who is the father's mother, not allowing the mother (the defendant's daughter) to visit the child. (Naturally, I can't speak to who was right and who was wrong on that question.)

The injunction is expected to last a week, but that is a week during which both the First Amendment and Oklahoma law would be violated, I think. Generally speaking, such preliminary injunctions against libel are unconstitutional, for reasons I discuss here. But beyond this, Oklahoma is one of the few states that categorically forbids both pretrial and posttrial injunctions against libel, see First Am. Bank & Trust Co. v. Sawyer (Okla. Ct. App. 1993):

[T]he operation of the rule that equity will not restrain a mere libel or slander is not affected by the fact that the false statement may injure plaintiff in his business, profession, or trade, or as to his credit or property, in the absence of acts of conspiracy, intimidation or coercion, or where no breach of trust or of contract appears ….

See also House of Sight & Sound, Inc. v. Faulkner (Okla. Ct. App. 1995): "Even if the notice published by Appellees could be considered false or defamatory, the general rule is that equity will not enjoin a libel or slander."

But of course these legal rules aren't self-enforcing, and trial judges often don't know them. It likely didn't help that, according to the order, the judge issued the order without the defendant being present—at least a defense lawyer, if the defendant could afford one, might have been able to raise the equity-will-not-restrain-a-libel argument. (Plaintiff's counsel stated that "they have attempted to contact the Defendants prior to this order, without success.")