Online Dating Leads to Jailhouse Online Defamation Lawsuit

Believe it or not, your “fame quotient” dictates what you have to prove when perusing a defamation lawsuit. It’s one of the few things in life where celebrities and politicians have it harder than you or me. It’s much easier for a private citizen to win a defamation lawsuit than a famous (or notorious) person. In fact, recognizable people who did not intentionally seek notoriety, but somehow became inserted into common discourse, will often try to argue that they’re not “public figures” when filling libel and/or slander claims.

Recently, this denial of fame tactic was used by jailhouse-lawyer/convicted felon, Edmund D. LaChance, Jr.

The Desire to Date

In 2005, Ed thought it was about time he branched out and nurtured his inner Bridget Jones. So, he dug deep, wrote what he thought was a welcoming personal profile and let it loose on the website, Inmate Connections. For obvious reasons, Mr. LaChance failed to mention in his bio that he was a convicted rapist.

Enter the Boston Herald who decided to do a series of reports on the dangers of interacting with felons online. Edmund LaChance and his grossly misleading profile were highlighted in the Herald’s informative, public service features. LaChance was neither flattered by, nor appreciated, the unwanted attention the article brought and opted to file a defamation lawsuit—LaChance vs. Boston Herald was born.

But, I’m not Famous!

Famous people are required to prove malice when filing defamation lawsuits, so LaChance filed the suit as a private citizen in an attempt to avoid having to meet the condition. The court, however, disagreed with this status and ruled that Mr. LaChance was considered a “limited purpose public figure” who willingly put himself in the public’s eye the second he clicked “submit” and posted his bio online.

Initially, the Boston Herald made some small factual errors about LaChance in their reporting. Ed tried to use this to his advantage, but was once again knocked down by the court. The judge ruled that the mistakes were protected by the “fair report privilege” and deemed the errors inconsequential since they weren’t “actionably false”.

Public Concern Trumps Online Defamation of Public Figures

Speaking to the larger issue, the court also determined that since the Herald’s articles addressed a matter of public concern, Mr. LaChance was also required to prove that the journalists acted with malice or reckless disregard for the truth. In other words, Ed would have to prove that the Boston Herald went out of their way to make him, the convicted rapist, look bad.

As one would imagine, the court threw the case out and the appellate division upheld their decision.

LaChance’s outcome had a lot to do with the fact that he was considered a public figure. The rules change when defamatory statements affect private citizens. If you are currently in the middle of an online defamation battle, we can provide legal guidance. There are quick, inexpensive ways to legally force defamatory statements about small businesses and individuals to be removed from the Net. And we’re the lawyers who can make that happen for you.

Fill out the secure form to your right to begin the conversation. We’ve passed the bar and we’re Internet geeks; in other words, the perfect legal team to handle your online defamation lawsuit needs.

Important Defamation Lawsuits in US History: 1700s – 1960s

In the United States, defamation has always been a legal arena known to expand and change with the advent of new communication mediums and social mores. Due to the Constitution’s free speech guarantee, defamation has also always been very difficult to prove in American law courts. With the Web now a permanent part of our lives, you can expect defamation legislation to, once again, mold and change.

Cosby v. Zenger

One of the first, pre-Constitutional, defamation lawsuits involved British Governor William Cosby and newspaper editor, Peter Zenger. Encouraged and backed by high-powered, influential anti-colonists, Zenger printed anonymous editorials in his Daily Journal accusing Cosby of fixing elections and misappropriating taxes. Cosby was outraged by the accusations and demanded that the local government grant him the right to shut down Zenger’s newspaper. Refusing to bend to the Brit’s wishes, the legislative panel denied Cosby’s requests. Furious at the snub, Cosby enlisted his royal-leaning friend (and judge) to disbar Zenger’s attorneys. For good measure, Cosby also had Zenger thrown in jail.

Famed lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, came to Zenger’s rescue.

Astonishingly, Hamilton convinced a jury that the law used to convict Zenger was, simply put, unfair. Hamilton pleaded that “truth should be an absolute defense against libel charges”. Thankfully, Hamilton won the case and “truth as a defense against defamation” is a legal principle still applied today.

The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan

The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan set a legal precedence of actual malice in defamation lawsuits involving public figures. At the beginning of the civil rights movement, southern public figures had filed approximately $3 million dollars in defamation lawsuits against various news outlets. Unsurprisingly, for fear of being slapped with expensive lawsuits, papers and networks shied away from disseminating stories about the actions and statements of politicians.

The New York Times chose to fight back and the result was the Supreme Court ruling which defined “actual malice” as a requirement for defamation lawsuits brought forward by public figures. This decision greatly expanded what could be entered into public discourse without fear of prosecution.

The attorneys at the Kelly Law Firm are equally as geeky about both the history of Internet law and defamation law. If you currently find yourself in the middle of an online defamation legal battle, we’d be happy to help. With dozens of successful Internet defamation cases under our belts, we’re known for our ability to get situations cleared up quickly and therefore inexpensively.

In today’s technologically- dependent world, it’s imperative to rectify any online reputation issues as quickly as possible. Contact us today to get started.