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Jury Awards $11 Million for Internet Defamation

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the lawyers-making-everyone's-life-better dept.

612

dptalia writes "A woman in Florida has been awarded $11.3 million dollars in a defamation case. Apparently the defendant was unhappy with the plaintiff's referral service and posted complaints all over the internet. In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million. The defendant can't pay the judgement — she can't even pay for an attorney. The plaintiff says she doesn't care, but sued for the principle of the thing."

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Lawers always Win. Even when both sides loose. (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395451)

Now both sides have lost. First the defendant who has to go into bankruptcy and the plaintiff who now because of the trial got national attention for being a litigious bastard. Who most people will be afraid to do work with because she will take any negative comments towards her and sue the pant off people. If she just sucked it up, explained her side on the net as well anyone the damage will be limited to a couple of Blogs which no one reads. But new with USA Today coverage now the rest of the US can hear about it. So in the end the only person who won is the lawyer. The Defendant can't afford to pay the Plaintiff, but the Plaintiff needs to pay the lawyer.

Re:Lawers always Win. Even when both sides loose. (3, Interesting)

Cyrom (984413) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395537)

Sounds like i will have to be a little more carefull with my feedback on Amazon and Ebay.

Re:Lawers always Win. Even when both sides loose. (5, Interesting)

computational super (740265) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395973)

Anybody still beleive that Americans don't need anonymous internet options like Freenet [sourceforge.net] ? (Assuming, that is, that they EVER get the thing to work).

Re:Lawers always Win without a tight grip (4, Funny)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395659)

While loosed lawyers are much more powerful than chained ones, the chained ones are safer.

Even if the other side looses their lawyer, like the parent says - the lawyers are the only ones who win if they're loosed.

If you keep control of them, they won't be able to bite you, and you stand a chance of coming out ahead. It may even be possible to win even if the other side has loosed their lawyers.

Another good tip is to remember to spade or neuter your lawyer to help reduce the number of strays.

Re:Lawers always Win. Even when both sides loose. (2, Funny)

Dexx (34621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395875)

"People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."
Yeah - use lawyers instead.

Bankruptcy not an option (1)

alcmaeon (684971) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395915)

In general, one cannot discharge intentional torts, such as defamation, in bankruptcy. Basically, the defendant can be garnished and collected against for the rest of her life. I assume she will never have any property titled to her again.

Re:Lawers always Win. Even when both sides loose. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395979)

There is a big problem with the legal system in the U.S. This case is a glaring example of it. If you have money to afford good attorneys, you can win your case. If you do not have money to afford good attorneys, you are very unlikely to win your case, even if free speech (AKA the First Amendment) is at the heart of it and any dumb bastard looking at the case knows you did nothing wrong. The U.S. system is called an adversarial system. But, it fails to mention that justice is and cannot be served when one side cannot afford the extor^h^h^h^h^h fee for a decent attorney.

Supposedly there is a fix for bad attorneys -- you can sue them for not doing a good job on your case. First, they have to do a really, really bad job. Second, you need another attorney to get your case litigated.

In summary, the U.S. legal system is a circus.

Confusing To Me (3, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395453)

What's always been confusing to me is what needs to be true in publishing. Books have always seemed to be protected from people 'publishing whatever they want.' But the more I think about it, the more I realize that politicians usually have to put up with books containing allegations that aren't entirely provable. So, for the most part, I think that books are safe from large postings of defamation.

The same can be said about magazines & newspapers (usually) though--with the National Enquirer and tabloids--it certainly does have examples of blatant slander.

But anyone can say anything on the internet and get away with it--or so I thought. Considering what I read online, I'm certainly surprised there aren't more cases like this.

It seems the more volatile the medium is, the more 'free' you are to do whatever you want.

I haven't read the actual comments online that this woman posted but I would suggest that the defendant appeal to a higher court on the grounds of free speech and try to get her story out through the media. I mean, it looks like she's boned either way so she might as well appeal and represent herself if she has to. I'm pretty certain that this could be dismissed in a higher court. After all, it sounds like she was dissatisfied with the person's service so she is more than qualified to comment on the woman's business--unless she was telling explicit lies.

Re:Confusing To Me (1)

pedalman (958492) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395671)

But anyone can say anything on the internet and get away with it--or so I thought. Considering what I read online, I'm certainly surprised there aren't more cases like this.
I believe that the point of this suit was defamation, not "Internet"-based defamation. Libel is libel, regardless of the medium used to communicate it. Had the remarks been published in a "Letters To The Editor" column in the local rag, I'm sure a suit would have still been filed.

But as the OP said, both sides have lost.

Public Eye (2, Informative)

Conception (212279) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395715)

People in the public eye don't get applied to the same standards as private citizens.

Re:Confusing To Me (5, Insightful)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395835)

IANAL, but I have worked in the legal field for several years now. In the article it mentions that the Defendant used words like, "fraud," "con artist," and such to describe her. So the Defendant wasn't saying that she was unhappy with the Plaintiff's work, but that the Plaintiff was an actual criminal defrauding the people who went to her. That is a significant difference. Free speech does not, nor has it ever, allowed people to lie about someone else. That is not its intent and arguing that it ought to be allowed does far more damage than good.

As for politicians and celebrities, there is a higher standard that must be met in order for words against them to be considered damaging. For celebrities the case is, I believe, Lemon v Kurtzman, and it basically says that if you put yourself into the national spotlight, than you should expect to have things said about you. (In a nutshell;-)

As for politicians, I believe just about anything you say against them is fair game since it can be construed as a political metaphor. "CongressCritter Soandso is a crook!" is allowed because it is, in essence, still considered political speech. The protection of which is the main intent of the Free Speech clause of the 1st Amendment.

Re:Confusing To Me (4, Informative)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395907)

As for politicians, I believe just about anything you say against them is fair game since it can be construed as a political metaphor.


Not quite. Any public figure, included a politician, has a high bar to prove defamation under the New York Times v. Sullivan standards, which require a showing of actual malice as well as falsity. But that's not absolute license to print anything you want regardless of truth.

Re:Confusing To Me (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395997)

...require a showing of actual malice...


So basically type whatever you want; just make sure to put a smiley at the end of it? Thats what I do when I type things in about all you ratbastards out there :-)

Re:Confusing To Me (3, Insightful)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395947)

Thanks for the comment - I completly agree with you but I'd be labeled an idiot since I can't claim to have a background in law. However, this woman's right to free speech was not infringed on; she exercised it! Oh boy did she exercise it!

I wish people would stop confusing freedom of speech with freedom from repercussion.

Re:Confusing To Me (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395855)

It seems the more volatile the medium is, the more 'free' you are to do whatever you want.


While the distinction between libel and slander do have to do with the volatility of the medium, the most important distinctions, as far as what you can get away with, in defamation law in the US have to do with the subject matter (whether its a public concern or private) and the subject person (whether they are a public figure or not).

"a chilling slap at free speech" (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395467)

It's called libel. It's against the law and has never been protected speech.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395555)

I think it is more of a case that the plaintiff won 11.3 million from it where the defendant can't even afford it. Combined with the fact she didn't have the opertunity to defend herself.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

symes (835608) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395667)

When Katrina hit in August 2005, Bock's house was flooded and she moved temporarily to Texas before returning to Louisiana last June. Court papers that Scheff and her attorney David H. Pollack mailed to Bock were returned to Pollack's office in Miami.

I wonder how much of that $11m was due to her not making court? My guess is that if she had been there with even some form of token legal representation, dressed appropriately and maybe shed a token tear things would have been much different. An awful lot goes on appearance.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (2, Insightful)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395765)

I think it is more of a case that the plaintiff won 11.3 million from it where the defendant can't even afford it.

Damage judgements are about how much damage was done, not about how much the defendant is able to pay. (Puntitive damage judgements are about applying a small multiplier as a punishment for malice.)

Combined with the fact she didn't have the opertunity to defend herself.

She didn't have legal council. That doesn't mean she didn't have have the opportunity to defend herself - just that she didn't have the resources to hire an expert to advise her on the ins and outs of how to do it well. Serious handicap. But not insurmountable - especially since the judge and jury are likely to cut her a lot of slack if she can't afford a lawyer.

Chosing not to show up at all is throwing in the towel.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (5, Informative)

bladesjester (774793) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395935)

Chosing not to show up at all is throwing in the towel.

Actually, it stated in the article that she had to leave Louisiana when hurricane Katrina hit and never got the court documents with the date to show up. They were returned by the postal service to the plaintiff's lawyer in Florida.

So, apparently, the reason she didn't show up was not because she couldn't get an attourney. It was because she never got the summons.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396037)

Just out of curiosity, what recourse will this woman, who has no means to pay this judgement, have? Will she they garnish her wages? If so, by how much? Can bankruptcy protect her? Has this judgement permanently ruined this woman's financial future?

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395741)

It's only libel in the US if she can be proven to have known that what she said wasn't true. In this case, she wasn't actually able to appear in court (if TFA is correct), so she never had a chance at defending herself.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395857)

It's only libel in the US if she can be proven to have known that what she said wasn't true.

That's insane. You mean I can call you a child molestor, specify dates and times and childrens' names and the court will accept as a defense against libel the fact that I have no idea whether it's true or not? I can't believe any legal system is that bad.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395931)

That's insane. You mean I can call you a child molestor, specify dates and times and childrens' names and the court will accept as a defense against libel the fact that I have no idea whether it's true or not? I can't believe any legal system is that bad.

I believe what the previous poster was getting at is that there is more protection in the American legal system for people who make statements they *believed* were true, not statements they simply didn't verify not to be false. So your example would probably be found libellous in pretty much any court, unless you happen to live at 1 Neverland Ranch.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (2, Informative)

LochNess (239443) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395987)

That's insane. You mean I can call you a child molestor, specify dates and times and childrens' names and the court will accept as a defense against libel the fact that I have no idea whether it's true or not? I can't believe any legal system is that bad.


It's not, the person you responded to is wrong:

http://www.expertlaw.com/library/personal_injury/d efamation.html [expertlaw.com]

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395975)

It's only libel in the US if she can be proven to have known that what she said wasn't true.
It's only required to be proven if the charges are contested; if, say, the defendant fails to appear in response to the lawsuit, the no one should be surprised by a default judgement.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396043)

she wasn't actually able to appear in court
Hmm... I know she got caught up in Katrina but her excuse for not appearing is a bit lame. If you're being sued in court then I strongly advise you to appear, preferably with legal representation. She had her chance, blew it (or knew she was guilty as sin), and now must face the consequences.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

gid13 (620803) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395869)

In other words, "free speech" is not something we really have. Libel, hate speech laws, laws to prevent bomb threats etc, lack of rights at the border, censorship of TV/movies/etc for swearing and content, politicians choosing which media to speak to based on who casts them in a good light, anti-fraudulent advertising laws, hell even anti-spam laws, anti-noise laws, the list goes on and on... I'm not saying these are necessarily things with no good side, but they are all somewhat contrary to free speech. And it seems a bit silly to me to trumpet our wonderful free speech when it's not really there. Sure we might be able to speak more freely than some, but really, that makes me imagine more accurate slogans like:

"America: Not as bad as Saudi Arabia"

or

"Canada: We can say SOME things you can't say in Cuba"

*I* say: fuck censorship. Let anyone say anything they please. Maybe it'll help force people to realize that everyone biases things, and that they need to develop filters to figure out who to trust and when to trust them.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

Tweekster (949766) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395921)

Fine whats your full name and address... we will see how you like it when I take an ad out in the paper saying you molest children and that I have a number of witnesses supporting that claim...

Free speech needs to be close to absolute, but definately not absolute.

Re:"a chilling slap at free speech" (1)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396021)

No, no... there is something amiss here. She has a right to free speech and she used it, now she's facing the repercussions. That's all there is to this.

She wasn't censored... this was a civil action, not a criminal one. She may have been told to take down the "offending" material, but no one is going to hold a gun to her head to do it - she'll just receive more monetary penalties.

Better Business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395475)

Im sure all the publicity is going to do wonders for her service.

Dear Fark... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395529)

...can we borrow your 'FLORIDA' tag?

K thx!

xox,
Slashdot

Re:Dear Fark... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395943)

I tagged it florida for you, but it probably won't show up ;)

Sudden Manners (4, Funny)

loteck (533317) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395535)

I'm betting there's going to be a lot of very polite and respectful replies in this story's thread.

Re:Sudden Manners (5, Funny)

bloatboy (170414) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395609)

Parent is obviously a Naz^H^H^H fine person deserving of being modded up.

Re:Sudden Manners (0, Troll)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395623)

Perhaps I should sue all the Slashdot users who insulted my posts in the past, and called me an idiot, or stupid...
Nah, I have more of a life then that, plus my skin is a little thicker.

Re:Sudden Manners (1)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395801)

Go for it. Of course, your stupid posts will be entered into evidence, and you'll have to convince the judge and/or jury that you're not actually stupid.

Re:Sudden Manners (1)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395641)

...Or a lot of anonymous cowards. But about TFA: why did the defendant attach her name to it? It is so easy to defame someone anonymouslyu on the net.

Re:Sudden Manners (1)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395657)

Here is one:

The plaintiff's name is given as Sue Scheff. Tell me that that isn't funny.

Re:Sudden Manners (0, Redundant)

6ULDV8 (226100) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395759)

No doubt. We're all too afraid to make a negative comment about the suit happy cunt.

This was a default judgement. The defendant was not even served notice of the Florida trial because she had to leave Louisiana after Katrina.

"Court papers that Scheff and her attorney David H. Pollack mailed to Bock were returned to Pollack's office in Miami."

If she had made an appearance in court, she may have prevailed.

slander and libel are not legal and not protected (4, Insightful)

stry_cat (558859) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395561)

In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million.
The jury decided that this was slander/libel. These are not protected by the first amendnemnt. You can't go around destroying someone's reputation when what you're saying is a lie. The jury must have found that the plaintiff provided the services according to the contract with the defendant. It's not a slap a free speech, unless you think people should be able to make unfounded accusations and damage an innocent person's reputation.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (1, Interesting)

AdamKG (1004604) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395669)

It's not a slap a free speech, unless you think people should be able to make unfounded accusations and damage an innocent person's reputation.
That's exactly what I think.

There is no reason my free speech rights have to pay the price for society being so gullible. Let people slander to their heart's content and maybe society will learn a little skepticism.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396033)

Just as your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins, your right to free speech ends when it is false and harms. Don't like it? Move elsewhere.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (1)

Old Man Kensey (5209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396061)

I once thought as you do, but I realized that that conclusion is predicated on the premise of perfect and complete information flow. You assume that people have the means and the data to make a complete and fair judgement. Reality doesn't work like that -- there will always be people who happen to only hear one side or the other, and even if these people have Solomonic wisdom, they can only judge on what they know and hear. If one side is not represented, they can be unfairly damaged by false allegations.

If I have two friends who buy XYZ hard drives, and they both tell me the XYZ drive sucks, I'm that much less likely to buy an XYZ drive, simply because the sum of my knowledge is slanted against them. It doesn't mean I take it as an absolute fact that XYZ drives suck, but I'll at least think twice about spending money on one. It's the concept of "preponderance of evidence", which is also the standard of proof in a case like this one -- if one side is not represented it pretty much means the other side wins automatically. (That also means this lady would have been better served to file her defense in writing than to simply make no defense at all. By failing to appear she implicitly concedes that the other side is 100% correct and there is nothing to defend.)

In a world of perfect and complete information flow, where everything that is said is known by or at least accessible to everyone instantly, there's no need for libel or slander laws, but that day is not yet.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395719)

from the article:
In 2003, Scheff sued Bock for defamation. Bock hired a lawyer, but he left the case when she no longer could afford to pay him.

When Katrina hit in August 2005, Bock's house was flooded and she moved temporarily to Texas before returning to Louisiana last June. Court papers that Scheff and her attorney David H. Pollack mailed to Bock were returned to Pollack's office in Miami.

After Bock didn't offer a defense, a Broward Circuit Court judge found in favor of Scheff. A jury then heard Scheff's arguments about damages. Pollack did not seek a specific amount for the harm he says Scheff's business suffered.

"Even with no opposing counsel and no defendant there, $11 million is a huge amount," says Pollack, adding that Scheff is considering whether to try to collect any money from Bock. "The jury determined this was a significant enough issue. It's not just somebody's feelings are hurt; it's somebody's reputation is ruined."

Bock says that when she moved back to her repaired house over the summer, she knew the trial was approaching but did not know the date. She says she doesn't have the money to pay the judgment or hire a lawyer to appeal it. She adds that if the goal of Scheff's lawsuit was to stifle what Bock says online, it worked.


For all we know what Bock said could have been true, but since she didn't appear at the trial and had no attorney she lost the case.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395783)

The jury must have found that the plaintiff provided the services according to the contract with the defendant.

Must they have? We have presidents who get out of perjury trials by defining "sex" a specific way (which is, oddly, shared by the vast majority of the country, if you did not put your penis in her vagina, you "did not have sex with that woman"), prosecutors that throw the book at child porn viewers by redefining "creation" in ways incompatible with logic, but in the end the jury has to make the decision based on the instructions provided. If the plaintiff tells the jury that they must find the defendant liable if the defendant caused damage to the plaintiff without mentioning the whole "truth is a defense" thing, then thats what the jury decided.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (1)

c0d3h4x0r (604141) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395819)

Exactly. The article submitter assumes that the defendant's negative reviews were truthful. We have to remember the defendant might have been lying, but if the defendant's reviews were truthful, then the defendant most definitely should have won.

We've definitely seen a number of cases over the last decade in which authors of truthful negative online reviews have lost in court to plaintiffs that were plainly guilty of all the accusations but just didn't like the negative attention. This could very well be another unethical ruling like that. It would be infuriating, but not very surprising.

As more bad laws and wrong rulings go against ethics, it just gets less surprising, which means it also gets more tolerated, which means it happens more. Vicious cycle.

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395827)

The jury decided that this was slander/libel . . .The jury must have found that the plaintiff provided the services according to the contract with the defendant.

No, they didn't, because there was no trial. No evidence, no arguments, no nothing but a default ruling by the judge.

The jury was left with no task other than deciding the amount of the award and the only thing they had before them to consider was the complaint; which, for whatever reason, they chose to take at face value.

But a complaint is just that, a complaint. An unsubstantiated claim. It isn't evidence.

KFG

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (5, Informative)

Random Utinni (208410) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395885)

While it's true that slander/libel are not protected by the 1st Amendment, that's pretty irrelevant to what happened here. According to TFA, the defendant never showed up to offer a defense. The judge, without any other way to go, found a default judgment for the plaintiff. Only at this point was a jury called, and then only to determine damages. If you're a juror, and one attorney tells you, "In my long experience, this sort of pain and suffering (or whatever) is worth $11 million", and no one is there to tell you otherwise, there's a good chance you'll find $11 million in damages. Whether it actually was slander or libel doesn't matter. If there's no defense, the defense loses, regardless of the actual facts. Damned inactivist judges...

It turns out the defendant had her house flooded by Hurricane Katrina and had to leave... the legal notices that the plaintiff was required to send bounced back to the plaintiff and were never received. The defendant didn't show because she wasn't aware of when the trial was. Nor did she have enough money to hire a lawyer. So, odds are, had the case actually been defended, this thing would've either been thrown out or reached a defense verdict.

I'm just suprised that the judge didn't reduce the jury's damages... that said, because the defendant had no money for an attorney, it seems unlikely that this will be appealed (which it should be).

Re:slander and libel are not legal and not protect (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395945)

I have a thing against overcompensation. Was her reputation currently worth 11M? I think if someone does that much damage - they shouldn't be sued, they should be in jail.

I think the punishment should fit the crime.

Have lawsuits made our country truly better? One of the most frequent lawsuit targets, healthcare, is barely accessible anymore and the costs keep mounting. Compare this to, say some European countries, and there can be a major difference in price and accessibility to the common man.

Long story short: A relative had a stomach operation here, 2 days in hospital with surgery cost $16,000 with insurance. They didn't do the stiches correctly and he started having internal bleeding during a business trip. Had to get the same surgery there redone, another 2 day stay in hospital. Even though his insurance wouldn't pay because the hospital wasn't American and therefore "they couldn't tell if the place met the high standards", the bill came to only $2400. For the same thing. This was in France. I am not talking about Puerto Rico here.

The way lawsuits are structure here, it is hardly doing anybody good. But don't expect the lawyers to change it either:/

It depends on what what posted... (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395563)

I (of course) have not read the posts, but if they were an attack on the person, then there may be a case. However, if the posts were a statement of poor business practices, then this case should be thrown overboard IMO.

After Bock didn't offer a defense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395579)

After Bock didn't offer a defense, a Broward Circuit Court judge found in favor of Scheff. A jury then heard Scheff's arguments about damages.

I know it sucks to have to get a lawyer and show up in court, but when a defendant doesn't even show up, it sends a message to a jury who doesn't know the back story. If she showed up and talked about her Katrina issues the ruling could have gone a different way. Most times when a defendant doesn't even show up for court, juries interperet that as guilt.

no defense (1)

v1ncent (997828) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395583)

not to difficult to win a case when their is no defense or they don't even show in court. 11 mill ???

Phew! I nearly did this. (1)

celardore (844933) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395589)

Last year I had some *major* trouble with my bank. I opened the account some months prior to this incident. I received a letter from the bank stating that they had not taken sufficient ID when I opened my account, and they would need me to go to the branch and give them some fresh ID. I went down there on my lunch break and gave them my drivers licence, and a letter written & signed by the guy I rented a room off together with a bill in his name saying I lived at that address.

They didn't accept my drivers licence (the only photo ID I had at the time) at all because the address was invalid. I'd only recently moved from the address I opened the account with, which was on the licence.
I could not satisfy the banks requirement for identifcation no matter how hard I tried, my employers were unable to provide anything either.
My account was frozen, a cheque bounced and they kept applying charges. Nice that they could deduct money from my account while I couldn't. That whole situation really screwed me up for a while, I had to get paid by cheque, open a new account change all my direct debits etc.

I wanted to create a campaign against that bank, but was advised against it by my colleagues & friends, because they would just take me to the cleaners for libel. And that was a bank, I'd have really been screwed hard!

Re:Phew! I nearly did this. (1)

Dogers (446369) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395649)

I'm curious.. What happened?

USAPATRIOT Act 313-316 (1, Informative)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396019)

He fell victim to the PATRIOT Act.

It requires you give your home address to the bank and that it be verified by a major credit reporting agency.

If there's a conflict, your account gets frozen. By law. The bank has NO leeway.

I tell my employees to explain this in depth to customers whose accounts get frozen, so they know how the USAPATRIOT Act has violated their rights...

Re:Phew! I nearly did this. (1)

geoffspear (692508) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395737)

Well, if what you're saying in the campaign against the bank is true (and it'll help if you can prove that it's true), they shouldn't be able to sue you for libel.

However, if you were planning on spreading lies about the bank, you'd justifiably be smacked with a libel lawsuit. And I'm not sure how much damage an Internet campaign against a bank saying "These guys are jerks; if you're an idiot and don't update the address on your driver's license when you move, as required by state law, they're not going to accept it as valid ID" is going to do anyway.

Re:Phew! I nearly did this. (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395825)

You have good friends. While even if you won, it wouldn't have been worth the costs. Time is money, and even if you work for Burger King your free time is worth a lot. The banks lawyers can and would do anything to make sure that if your wasting their time, they are going to waste you financially.

You probably wouldn't have won though, because their was a federal law passed (patriot act?) requiring banks to have verified the identification for every account created. (I don't know if it was retro active or not..)
So as to be able to track "terrorist transactions."

What you should have done instead was originally claimed you're old address as current, and then filed a mail forward, or simply gone to DOL and had your ID updated.

I am sorry the system works that way. It really doesn't give you enough time, and it's easy to get distracted when you have so much going on, like moving, starting a new job, setting up your home network so you can play wow before you get your laundry machines working etc.... (o.k. so the last one was me 8')

Not free speech (2, Insightful)

mikesd81 (518581) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395601)

In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million
There's a fine line between slander and free speech. According to the article: A Florida woman has been awarded $11.3 million in a defamation lawsuit against a Louisiana woman who posted messages on the Internet accusing her of being a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud."

Maybe 11.x some million is a little steep but you can't go out and slander someone. It would be different if the defendant went out and said she doesn't trust the person or like the person, that doesn't necessary deflamate the character.

Why not give Sue a call... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395603)

...and tell her what you think?

"Contact: 954.349.7260 www.helpyourteens.com

Weston, Fla. - Parent Universal Resource Experts (PURE) today announced the launch of their re-designed website, [web address here] to provide an easier way for parents and advocates of troubled teens to get the company's newest offerings, says Sue Scheff, owner of PURE."

http://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?SESSIONID= &aId=15110 [webwire.com]

Re:Why not give Sue a call... (1)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395751)

Tell her the scallops are overcooked.


And next time be easy with the saffron, if I wanted this much saffron I'd just eat raw saffron.

onoes!! its teh lawz0rs!!! (5, Informative)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395605)

Today's Lesson: If you can sue someone in your home state, who can't even afford a lawyer and is out of reach due to natural disaster, you too can win really big judgements!

Seems Ms. Sheff is no stranger to trashing others [strugglingteens.com] on web sites.

if you can't say something nice... sue.

From the article (4, Insightful)

lax-goalie (730970) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395629)

The plaintiff's motive is:

"People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."

But I guess people using the courts to destroy people they don't like is is just fine with her...

Re:From the article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395795)

lax-goalie just won the thread, methinks.

Freedom of Speech is not Freedom to Defame (1, Insightful)

maynard (3337) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395647)

According to TFA the one woman wrote of another that she: ...posted messages on the Internet accusing [the plaintiff] of being a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud." The Defendant did, in fact, make public written claims about the plaintiff's character, business, and fraudulent behavior that were either demonstratably untrue or (at least) unproven. Therefore, it is entirely proper that she be sued in civil court, and that, upon losing the civil suit, a financial penalty be awarded to the plaintiff.

Why is this so hard to understand? You do not have the right to defame others simply because you believe yourself to be anonymous on the Internet. Not only are you not anonymous, but the legal system can most assuredly find you and exact penalties for misbehavior. And, frankly, it's about time the legal system catch up and bust a few folks who have been abusing message boards for fraudulent purposes, irresponsible anonymous claims, or even just sick kicks.

So... IMO, good: The Defendant got what she deserved.

Re:Freedom of Speech is not Freedom to Defame (1)

Buran (150348) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395811)

Not only are you not anonymous, but the legal system can most assuredly find you and exact penalties for misbehavior.

Oh really? Then how about them doing something about all this spam I get for stuff I have no need for, being female? If they can find and slap someone who wasn't causing anyone any harm other than perhaps one individual, they should be able to find someone who is causing lots of harm to millions.

It is a civil matter, civilians initiate action (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395871)

Again, as he said, it is a civil matter. Someone must bring the issue to the courts (Buran vs. EvilSpammer) and that starts the process. The courts are not the starting point, the people are. That's the beauty of the system.

anti-spam conviction upheld (1)

maynard (3337) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396045)

Oh really? Then how about them doing something about all this spam I get for stuff I have no need for, being female?


Anti-Spam Conviction Is Upheld [washingtonpost.com] : N.C. Man Flooded AOL Customers With Unsolicited E-Mail:

The Court of Appeals of Virginia upheld yesterday what is believed to be the first conviction in the nation under a state anti-spamming law that makes it a felony to send unsolicited mass e-mails.

[...]

Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said in a statement that his office will ask the court to revoke bond and order Jaynes to begin serving his sentence. The attorney general applauded the appeals court decision, saying the three-year-old anti-spam law helps keep Internet users "safe and secure."

"Today's ruling reinforces Virginia's anti-spam act and further protects the people of the commonwealth from identity thieves and cyber criminals," McDonnell said.

Re:Freedom of Speech is not Freedom to Defame (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396059)

I agree that defamation suits should be able to apply to information posted on the Internet. However circumstances surrounding this case seem sketchy at best. The defendant should be allowed to give her side and considering she had to relocate because of a natural disaster, the trial should have been put on hold until she could be notified of the date of the trial. It could come out that everything the defendant said was true in which case the ruling would have to be overturned.

Katrina (1)

timmy the large (223281) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395653)

WTF. I went through Katrina, and there is no way i could have been involved in a trial in another state at the same time. What is wrong with this court that it did not postpone this. This really pisses me off. Its bad enough not being able to go home for months, or ever in some cases, but to have a court rule on your case without you even being there.

Damn this pisses me off.

Re:Katrina (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396067)

Did she even ask for a continuation? If she just ignored the whole thing, of course she's going to get screwed. Perhaps she will find the cash for a lawyer who can help her appeal the ruling and get a temporary stay of the court ordered payment. At least then she might get to present a defense.

Free Speech != Zero Liability (4, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395655)

This being Slashdot and all, I'll probably get modded down for this. C'est la vie. Someone obviously needs to explain this.

In a chilling slap at free speech, the jury decided that not only was this illegal, but that it was worth over $11 million.

Freedom of Speech [wikipedia.org] is the right to speak freely. It is NOT the right to speak without repercussion. Every time you make a public statement, you are responsible for the content of that statement as well as the veracity of that content. The typical example of this is shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater. If there's no fire, then you can expect that your actions will have serious conseqences.

TFA is light on the actual details of this case. So it's difficult to judge who was really "right" and who was really "wrong". (Especially since the defendent wasn't able to defend herself.) However, you need to pay attention to the fact that the defendent DID find an open forum for her speech. She posted her opinions (apparently to the point of persecuting the plantiff) and was thus able to exercise her right to free speech. The fact that a court decided that this speech was libelous [wikipedia.org] does nothing to impinge on those statements being fully accessable in a public forum.

When we talk about the lack of Free Speech, we mean that the statements can't be made in the first place. As in, the controlling entity (usually the government) can prevent dissenting opinions from being published in newspapers, books, or webpages. China even goes as far as to deny the right to blog, and filters out all incoming media for any speech they might find distateful.

Contrast that with a court case seeking to recover damages for statements made in public forums and accessible to millions. Presumably, those statements are still available. There is no "chill" here people. Move on.

Re:Free Speech != Zero Liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395769)

AKA you're a FAG!!!. Sue me!

- Wolf Bearclaw

Re:Free Speech != Zero Liability (1)

joshetc (955226) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395789)

Hmm.. if I understand what you are saying, even China has free speech. Sure, you may end up getting shot if they don't like what you have to say. I really don't see what the problem is...

Re:Free Speech != Zero Liability (1, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395995)

Hmm.. if I understand what you are saying, even China has free speech.

Obviously, you don't. Otherwise you'd realize that you can't even make a free statement to get sued over. Statements that are critical of the government, or the government doesn't otherwise like are not allowed to be made in the first place. No blogs, no newspapers, no open forums, not even a public speech. If you managed to find a way around the restrictions, then the government would try to erase the incident altogether. THAT is a lack of Freedom of Speech.

The statements that this woman made are presumably filed on public record with the courthouse, and probably haven't been deleted from the original source. The court is not making the statements go away, it is merely stating that the defendent has to make up for the damage the defendent caused the plantiff.

See the difference yet?

I don't understand? (1)

mlorentz (860043) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395709)

Would someone explain to me why you can be sued over an opinion you write in a message board post?

Re:I don't understand? (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395865)

Um, Let's say I start posting everywhere, in addition to being a pederast and pedophile, MLorentz has also been bouncing checks all over town....

The guy still owes me $500, which I offered to settle for $200.. he laughed and raped my daughter when I offered it...

now-- you think that shouldn't be actionable? if I start putting that everywhere?

let's see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16395753)

Let's give this a try: Taco's a big fat poopiehead!

This is disgusting (1)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395761)

If someone criticizes me, I can now sue them for hurting my feelings? I didn't know our country was THIS fucked up. I mean, I knew that we are litigious and all, but this is simply disgusting, no other words can describe it.

Free Speech doesn't include slander. (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395763)

From TFA: "I don't feel like I can express my opinions," Bock says.
From TFP: In a chilling slap at free speech, ...

Regardless of and without knowing this woman's "opinions", Free Speech doesn't include slander. If the plaintiff feels she was wronged or maligned, she has every right to pursue remedy.

Like it or not, the fact that the defendant was unable (or unwilling) to offer a defense is, well her problem (and speaks more to our legal system than her case) -- she could have kept her mouth shut or made her claims in a less defamatory fashion.

eh? Hypocricy at its best?!?! (1)

Gridpoet (634171) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395767)

Scheff says she wanted to make a point to those who unfairly criticize others on the Internet. "I'm sure (Bock) doesn't have $1 million, let alone $11 million, but the message is strong and clear," Scheff says. "People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."
so aparently its "wrong" to destroy someones life (its VERY questionable that that even happend here) on the internet, but perfectly fine to destroy someones life in court. Pathetic...

We should be seeing the pattern by now (1)

Concern (819622) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395775)

This sounds like another SLAPP lawsuit. [wikipedia.org]

This can't be about individual cases. This has been going on long past long enough.

This is about taking collective and massive action to deal with it. This is a country full of supposed free speech lovers - let's see who stays silent and who talks about reforming these loopholes that let the wealthy, be they business, government entities, or religions (Scientology anyone?) use the courts to do an end run around human rights.

Damages need to be Damages (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16396035)

Has anyone else noticed that alot of suits like this ask for completely unreasonable amounts of money? There is no possible way that slandering someone on the internet cost 10.4 million dollars. This reminds of the RIAA suits in which they charge 150 dollars per song. We need to bring damages back to being what you lost. If you slander someone and they loose 50k because their clients drop them, you pay them the 50k plus legal expenses. Your emotional well being is not worth millions of dollars.

Reward excessive, but I can understand the case (4, Interesting)

ahodgson (74077) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395799)

Claiming that you did business with someone and that they ripped you off is not "expressing your opinion", it is deliberately trying to hurt someone's livelihood. Civil court is the proper place to defend oneself against that sort of attack. In the US, if you're telling the truth, you can certainly say it, but you may have to defend yourself in court.

Although the reward is certainly far in excess of any real damage that could have been done, the principle is sound. If you mouth off about someone, you had better make sure you can prove you're telling the truth and be prepared to do so in a court of law.

It could be worse. In many other countries (including my own) you can be successfully sued for defaming someone even if you can prove that what you said is the truth. Now that stifles free speech.

Slasdot: News for Nerds... (1)

jazman_777 (44742) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395817)

Seat-of-the-Pants Lawyering.

Spellcheck (1)

gtada (191158) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395821)

"Judgment" not "judgEment".

RTFA...You can complain, you libel (1)

teflaime (738532) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395823)

Come on people...the defendant called the plaintiff a crook, a con artist, and a fraud. If youare going to complain about someone's service, you can give specific complaints. Give evidence to back it up. But you can't make unsubstantiated allegations, which the defendant did.
"Stunning slap against free speech?" It was more like the spanking of a name calling toddler.

Re:RTFA...You can complain, you libel (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396025)

Come on people...the defendant called the plaintiff a crook, a con artist, and a fraud. If youare going to complain about someone's service, you can give specific complaints. Give evidence to back it up. But you can't make unsubstantiated allegations, which the defendant did. "Stunning slap against free speech?" It was more like the spanking of a name calling toddler.

We had the tales of the notorious seaweed with, what petsworld or sommat, where the owner sued people who claimed his business sold defective goods on a pets forum. More harassment than anything. Anyway, Sheff and some Berryman have apperently a similar history of chatting down others on the internet. Do some googling on WWASP and PURE or find the other post I made under this article. There's probably fair chance Bock could have prevailed, had her side been told. All we have from TFA is 'crook', 'fraud', 'con artist' out of context. For all we know, PURE and Sheff did something which Bock considered patently unethical.

This is not so scary and won't change much (2, Insightful)

pilot-programmer (822406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395837)

If you are sued and do not bother to show up for the trial, you should be amazed if you don't find yourself owing a large sum of money. This is not the first time I have heard of a plaintiff suing in a jurisdiction chosen to prevent the defendant from showing up. It is entirely possible that the plaintiff has an ethics problem and her treatment of the defendant would make the allegations of crook and fraud accurate. But the defendant did not provide any evidence to justify her allegations so the court had to find for the plaintiff. If you are ever sued for any reason, do whatever you can to defend yourself. If you cannot hire an attorney, look for one to take your case pro bono. Alternatively do research on your own and try to defend yourself. Do not be foolish enough to be quoted in the paper saying, "I don't feel like I can express my opinions. Only one side of the story was told in court. Nobody heard my side."

"Chilling slap at free speech"? WTF? (2, Interesting)

mmell (832646) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395851)

Uh, you might want to actually read TFA - this case is no diffent than if Ms. Bock had taken out newspaper or television advertisements in which she defamed Ms. Scheff as a "crook", a "con artist" and a "fraud".

Just because it's free to post information on the intranet doesn't make it any different from any other publishing medium - were this a newspaper or television related case, I'm sure most /.'ers would agree that the law is clear; to publicly accuse someone of a crime, you'd better have a little thing called proof first. Print and television journalists know this. Nothing in the US Constitution/Bill of Rights guarantees anybody the right to make defamatory or libelous statements anywhere in public - when you speak of another, either be nice or have the goods to back up your statements.

As for Ms. Bock's assertion that "nobody heard my side of the case" - obviously not true, as it's plainly evident that some number of web-surfers did hear her case. If she wanted to have her case heard in court she should probably have considered showing up in court. I'm sure that the civil trial wasn't held in secret. Perhaps next time, Ms. Bock will deign to favor the court with her presence when she is being sued.

If 'dptalia' insists on posting this article with commentary that indicates he sympathizes with Ms. Bock, that's certainly a constitutionally protected right. ScuttleMonkey's lack of editorial judgement in permitting the article to be posted as is, while also constitutionally protected is nonetheless unimpressive (but not unexpected).

IANAL, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!

not a slap at free speech (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395853)

I don't see how this is a slap at free speech. What it is a slap at is those who think that something that would NOT be OK before the internet suddenly becomes fine just because they do it on the internet.

Here's a good rule of thumb: if something could get you in trouble doing it without the internet, doing it via the internet won't get you in less trouble.

The internet changes things in two ways in these matters.

  1. You can reach more people.
  2. Interesting jurisdiction issues can arise that usually would not be present in pre-internet cases.

Eating staples (1)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395877)


A while ago (as in several years ago) I went to Subway and got a sandwich there that was full of staples (due to the way that particular Subway franchise worked at that time -- it was basically like something out of Mad Max). Generally speaking, I left most of the sandwich, although I'm sure there are areas of my gut that are beautifully organized even now.

I wrote a little funny (and educational!) story about it, but I was advised not to post it anywhere because of the libel risk. I felt really guilty because I knew that other people were very likely finding their diet enriched with unwanted stationery.

Now, though, I don't feel so guilty. I feel kind of relieved.

Someone's joking (1)

shareme (897587) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395899)

Someone's joking.. Florida does not have jurisdiction as the events happened in Losianna..it woudl be Losiannna courts that would have the case.. Is all law in Florida crooked?

Another day, another chilling slap at free speech (1)

toby (759) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395903)

n/t

And the courts (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395909)

again prove "Weird Al"'s point...

What did the judge say about the $11 million? (1)

rollingcalf (605357) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395917)

Juries often give outrageous awards way out of proportion to the offense committed, then the judge injects some sanity and reduces it to a more reasonable amount.

If the $11 million is the final figure accepted by the judge, the judge should be de-frocked. One woman, who isn't a well-known public figure, talking smack on the internet isn't going to do nearly as much as $11 million or even $1 million of damage.

Principle of the thing? (1)

FlopEJoe (784551) | more than 7 years ago | (#16395941)

Not saying it's a hard and fast rule but, generally, when someone says it isn't about the money... it's about the money. And it doesn't have to be money from the defendant. They could be just banking on the publicity.

All in the lawyers (1)

archen (447353) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396003)

Man, I seriously cannot believe this country anymore. Everyone sues everyone for everything. In this case the person sues someone and doesn't even CARE. Now the defendant who can't even afford a lawyer is fucked with an couple million dallar bill. And what did this woman do that is worth 11 million? You know I probably won't have a personal output of $11 million over my whole life. What is really worth taking the personal 'worth output' of a person in this way?

Day after day I'm seeing lawyers fuck this country up. People critisize the government for its inefficencies, but the thing which is truly starting to drag this country down is the inefficency of our legal system. Just about every task in this country requires some expensive lawyer to get anything accomplished. Why is it that people who are merely supposed to fascilitate the justice system getting so rich? Our country is taking massive ammounts of productivity and wealth and basically putting it to the torch every time another lawyer fee is extracted. Cases such as this are not only abserd because the punishment is out of wack with the crime, but because the system actively encourages people to pursue such suits.

Shady (1)

s31523 (926314) | more than 7 years ago | (#16396015)

I think it is a bit shady that the lawsuit basically defaulted to the plantiff since the defendant didn't "offer a defense", so who knows if the merits of the case were legit or not. So you tie up tax payers money (courts, judges, etc.) to bring a case where the defendant can't defend themselves to win an award they can not pay out of principle? Greeeeeat. What did this prove?
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