Welcome to INFORRM’s US Monthly Round Up which we have decided to revive for the benefit of our readers. Posts will consider monthly developments in media law across the United States. We hope readers find this useful.

The defamation case brought by Vern Unsworth – the Thai cave rescue diver – against Elon Musk is proceeding in Los Angeles. The claim follows a tweet by Mr Musk in which he described Mr Unsworth as a “pedo guy”. The BBC reports as does CNBC, the New York Times and Law360. It is noted that the case developed following an interview of Mr Unworth on CNN. The defence sought to define Mr Unsworth as a public figure but failed – meaning proving actual malice motivating the statements is not required. The original complaint, in the United States District Court of Central California, can be found here.

Republican Congressman Devin Nunes is suing CNN for $435m following the publication of a “demonstrably false hit piece” on him on November 22. The article stated that Lev Parnas was willing to testify that Nunes met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor in 2018 in an effort to get dirt on Vice President Joe Biden. Reuters, USA Today, Variety and Courthouse News report.

The United States planned extradition of Julian Assange has been criticised by the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson. The Guardian covers the implications of the policy, which has implications internationally for press freedom. Assange’s extradition has been topical for a while, with Human Rights Watch commenting.

Huawei is reportedly looking to sue the FCC for defamation following a ruling which states it would not offer subsidies to carrier who used equipment from suspect companies.

The Spectator [£] considers the importance of open media and citizen journalists in a recent article.

This month in the Courts

  • In National Review Inc. v. Mann a petition for certiorari was denied. The case concerned professor Michael Mann, a leading climate change researcher and allegations of misconduct and wrongdoing by members of the National Review. Two questions were to be considered, which Reuters reports:

(1) whether a court or jury must determine if a factual connotation is “provably false” and

(2) whether the First Amendment permits defamation liability for expressing a subjective opinion about a matter of scientific or political controversy.

It is a shame that these points of determination will be left unresolved, which Justice Alito highlights in his dissenting opinion.

  • A defamation case against the Court of Appeals of Tennessee for defamatory comments made by a district attorney general came to a head in Floyd Rodney Burns v. State of Tennessee. The statements falsely alleged that the Mr Burns had committed perjury. It was determined that Executive Official Privilege did not extend to the district attorney general in question. Judgment was affirmed. The US News and World Report comments.
  • A summary order was granted in the case of Page v United States Agency for Global Media, in which Carter Page appealed the findings of the district court in his defamation case. The case concerned allegations Page made against Oath Inc and United States Agency for Global Media of Anti-Terrorism Act, defamation and tortious interference. The arguments were dismissed and the district court judgment was affirmed. The Epoch Times comments.
  • Uzoma Igbonwa v. Facebook Inc, No. 19-15121 (9th Cir. 2019), a negligence, defamation and discrimination case against Facebook – the claimant appealed to the Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit. The case was dismissed on grounds that Facebook had immunity from civil liability pursuant to s.230 of the Communications Decency Act as a publisher of information provided by another content provider.
  • Summary judgment was awarded to the Defendant in the defamation case Schwartz v. American Medical Ass’n, 23 F. Supp. 2d 1271 (D.N.M. 1998). The case was before the New Mexico US District Court and was bought following an article written by an employee of the American Medical Association. The claimant failed to establish the falsity of the statement that he was being sued for stock fraud.
  • The California Courts of Appeal case Briganti v. Chow where the plaintiff filed a defamation lawsuit following the defendant posting alleged defamatory comments on Facebook. The comments alleged that the plaintiff was an indicted criminal who had stolen the identities of several thousand people. Judgment was handed down in favour of the plaintiff, preventing strike out of the claim under an anti-SLAPP motion.
  • Marcus News, Inc. v. O’Brien County Board of Supervisors. The Iowa Supreme Court confirmed that the Sanborn Pioneer and O’Brien County’s Bell-Times-Courier could not be combined for determining circulation. This was due to the fact that the publications were not delivered in the same geographic area under Iowa Code 349.6.  

This Round up was complied by Suneet Sharma a junior legal professional with a particular interest and experience in media, information and privacy law.