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.
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