Defamation (the false and unjustified injury of the good reputation of another) entered the digital age in New York this year. Numerous Court decisions grappled with whether incendiary statements in blogs, web site user comments, and anonymous e-mail postings were grounds for legal action. At the same time, some anachronistic notions of injury to reputation were upheld, despite changing social attitudes. A summary of some of these recent cases appears below.

Blog Found Not to Defame Coffee Shop Management

The management of Gorilla Coffee, a Brooklyn coffee shop, was not defamed in an April 2010 New York Times blog post that quoted statements from workers when reporting on a labor dispute, a state judge had ruled.

The post was reporting on the shop's temporary closure after most of its employees quit. Both the store's sole shareholder and its director of operations argued that an employee statement quoted in the post criticizing "a perpetually malicious, hostile, and demeaning work environment" was defamatory and caused emotional distress. But Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta ruled in  Gorilla Coffee v. New York Times, 25520-2010, that the statement in question was "too subjective and vague to be considered anything more than an opinion." 

Ruling Blocks Realtor From Suing Over Comments on Rival’s Real Estate Blog

The Court of Appeals ruled that a New York City apartment rental agent and seller is blocked from suing a rival company for anonymous comments in a February 2008 blog post about the New York real estate industry that accused him of being a racist, an anti-Semite, a wife-beater, an adulterer and a bad boss.In Shiamili v. Real Estate Group of New York, the majority upheld dismissal of the suit against Daniel Baum and Ryan McCann of The Real Estate Group of New York because they apparently did not author the "unquestionably offensive and obnoxious" comments made by a blogger named "Ardor Realty Sucks" about the Plaintiff and his Ardor Realty Corp. Instead, they merely passed on the material to Internet users, the Court said.

Claims in E-Mail Sent Via Google Found to Be Opinion, Not Libel

An attempt by Caribbean resort operator Sandals Resorts International Ltd. to force Google Inc. to turn over extensive information about the sender of an allegedly libelous e-mail criticizing the company's treatment of native Jamaicans has been rebuffed by a New York appellate court in a decision that grapples with the nature of libel claims in the Internet age. A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled in Sandals Resorts v. Google, 100628/10, that the online post, considered in its entirety, constituted an expression of opinion.

False Allegation of Homosexuality Unfortunately Remains Defamation Per Se, Judge Says

While the New York Legislature passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage, a Broome County judge has allowed a man to proceed with a libel suit against a woman who alleged he was gay, finding that under appellate case law, the imputation of homosexuality was defamation per se, meaning harm to one’s reputation flowing from the alleged defamation need not be proven in order to establish a valid case, but rather is assumed automatically. In Yonaty v. Mincolla, 1003-2009, Broome County Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey rejected the defendants’ summary judgment motion, and held that the assertion of homosexuality constituted defamation.”While the law may, at some point, change… the existing law in New York, as expressed by the Appellate Divisions, which this court is bound to follow, is that imputation of homosexuality constitutes defamation per se.” Rulings like Yonatysurface every few years, with trial courts bound to follow Appellate Division precedents in the absence of a Court of Appeals ruling on whether the imputation of homosexuality constitutes defamation per se.

(The above content is all based on recent articles and analysis from the New York Law Journal).

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