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Free Speech

No Preliminary Injunctions Against Libel

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From Belmondo v. Amisial, decided Wednesday by the Florida Court of Appeal in an opinion by Judge Alexander Bokor, joined by Judges Bronwyn Miller and Monica Gordo:

Notwithstanding a related civil action pending in circuit court between the parties and an action pending in circuit court, family division, … Dr. Amisial filed a motion seeking emergency temporary injunctive relief to restrain appellant, [Ms.] Belmondo, from further spreading or repeating certain allegedly defamatory statements. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court entered an order granting temporary injunctive relief in favor of Dr. Amisial and against Belmondo, which Belmondo timely appeals.

Here, Belmondo correctly notes that "Florida's courts have long held that temporary injunctive relief is not available to prohibit the making of defamatory or libelous statements." Vrasic v. Leibel (Fla. Ct. App. 2013). The remedy for defamatory statements lies in an action at law for damages. A limited exception exists where "the defamatory words were made in the furtherance of the commission of another tort … [and] … where the party demonstrates a special harm." In the instant case, a review of the record, including the transcript of the hearing before the trial judge, reveals no such finding of special harm, nor a basis upon which such a finding could be made. At best, the record contains an affidavit with a conclusory statement regarding the impact of the statements. However, even ignoring the fundamental flaw of the complaint, which alleges no separate tort upon which special damages could be based, the conclusory allegation contained in the affidavit, without more, cannot form the basis for special damages.

Accordingly, absent a separate tort and a finding of special harm supported by competent, substantial evidence, the injunction on review constitutes an impermissible prior restraint on speech. We therefore vacate the injunction, and reverse and remand with instructions to deny the temporary injunction.

{We also note that the appeal raises other, significant issues besides the prior restraint without an appropriate exception….. Here, … the record contains no affirmative statement, under oath, by the party seeking the injunction that the claimed statements were false or that actual damages resulted from the defamatory comments. We decline to review the procedural or due process issues raised because we dispose of the matter on other grounds.}

Florida courts, like those in many other states, allow permanent injunctions that forbid the repetition of statements found to be defamatory at trial—but not pretrial preliminary injunctions against statements that the judge merely found to be likely to be libelous.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: February 22, 2005

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  1. EV - this is from one of Florida's intermediate courts of appeal. The judges are judges, not justices.

    Side note, one of my favorite things about Florida defamation law is that one of the seminal cases is Jews For Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp, which is cited in a footnote in this case.

    1. Is there any distinction between the two, other than as job titles?

      1. Florida, like the federal system, (and I believe most US jurisdictions) reserves "justice" as a title for members of the highest appellate court. Thus, Florida Supreme Court judges are "justices," while judges of the lower courts are just called judges. The distinction isn't hugely important, but mixing it up can create some confusion if the reader has some but not all the relevant context.

        For example, if you don't know that the Courts of Appeal are Florida's intermediate appellate court (some states' highest courts are called "Court of Appeals" rather than "Supreme Court"), you might infer from the reference to justices that this case comes from Florida's highest court. Alternatively, if you were aware of that fact, but not the names of the Florida Supreme Court's current justices, you might infer that the individuals referred to as justices belonged to the Florida Supreme Court and were "riding circuit" in the lower courts.

        1. Thanks.

  2. BLOCKQUOTE appears to include EV's personal commentary. "Florida courts, like..."

  3. Goat, MP: Fixed both, thanks!

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