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."

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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.")

NEXT: Lawyer Gets Temporary Injunction Against Gripe Site That Says He's a "Fraud," "Cowardly," "Cannot Be Trusted"

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  1. An aside on the limits of the law. Any lawyer who has spent time in trial, appellate and small claims courts knows that undisputed rules of contract law, tort law, real property law, likely libel rules as well are routinely ignored by judges and arbitrators. They may not like the result of the law in a given case or may have other motives for applying their own justice including preventing a greater harm.
    Most lawyers who have practiced for some time have encountered clients, opponents, even judges who present some challenges due to an emotional or other infirmaty which a legal system is incapable of addressing. Often, rough justice takes over and for better or worse, is an improvement on street justice. Fortunately, or not, the public need not witness each of these daily misadventures nor call out the participants who may not be fit for a courtroom analysis or alternatively, may be heroes in the greater scheme of things.

    1. The lawyer profession is totally out of control. It must be crushed and restarted again, in a different form. Judges should never be lawyers. They should be graduates of judge school. The main message of such schools should be, apply the law, do not make the law.

  2. The internet allows possibly-defamatory speech to do much greater, faster, and more lasting harm than previously. I wonder if there would be a way to craft a law that would provide disincentive to continuing such speech once a suit has been filed, without violating the 1st Amendment? Something like the various anti-SLAPP laws? Maybe an early assessment of the likelihood of success, and if the speech continues and is later found to be defamatory they would face additional fines or have to pay the prosecution’s legal fees? Of course I can see how those could be abused, so it’s not clear whether it’s possible.

    1. Yeah but doesn’t that very frailty make it less likely people will believe it when they read it? “It must be true, the internet says so” isn’t a meme for no reason.

  3. First, I dispute your premise that “The internet allows possibly-defamatory speech to do much greater, faster, and more lasting harm than previously.” That statement displays an unrealistically rosy picture of history and that reputational damage that was possible pre-internet.

    Regardless, the answer is that there is already an effective way to disincent such speech – you find it libelous in court and punish the person afterward. Just like we punish murderers after they commit their crimes. We don’t lock people up just because they might someday be dangerous.

    1. That was intended as a response to Bill R. Darned comment squirrels…

      1. Yes, that’s what that law is.

        But say the process goes like this: A insults B, B files suit, A continues with new insults, B eventually wins after three years. The suit only covers what A said until B started the suit (unless it can be amended, in which case it takes 4 years). Then B has to sue *again* to get relief for what A said while the first suit was still pending, because that’s a different insult.

        Of course, if B loses, A has still had to pay for three years of legal defense. That makes B’s action just a SLAPP suit in another form.

        The murder analogy doesn’t really work, because the [unproven] harm can continue to grow until then end of the trial.

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