Defamation Law: Jurisdictional Limitations

Know the rules written on blackboard to acoompany article about jurisdictional limitationsTechnicalities can make or break a defamation lawsuit. Just last week, two courts  – one in Ohio and the other in Massachusetts – dismissed defamation claims over  jurisdictional limitations.

Ohio Pro Se Plaintiff Ejected From Federal Court

Jurisdiction is the first issue addressed in most lawsuits. Get the jurisdiction wrong, and the judge will toss the claim.

An Ohio pro se defamation plaintiff  — whom we’ll call “Gabe” —  learned this lesson the hard way. Gabe, who is representing himself, filed a libel lawsuit in federal court against WTOV-TV and Ogden Newspapers.

But he made a mistake. Jurisdiction limitations require federal cases to involve either (a) a high dollar amount or (b) jurisdictional diversity, meaning the parties hail from different states.

In an attempt to prove jurisdictional diversity, Gabe submitted a page from a West Virginia phone book that included an entry for WTOV-TV. However, Judge Irene Keeley ruled that the “nerve center” for  WTOV-TV was Ohio, rendering the jurisdictional diversity argument moot.

Gabe can refile in Ohio.

Jurisdictional Limitations Spring Barbara Walters From New England Defamation Tangle

Venerated-reporter-turned-cackle-curator Barbara Walters managed to escape a libel lawsuit related to her 2008 memoir, Audition.

The story begins in 1983 when Nancy Shay and Jackie Guber– Walters’ daughter – were allegedly caught in bed together at boarding school. Eventually, the school expelled Shay, but Guber escaped the academic guillotine. Shay says the incident caused her to sink into a deep depression, from which she never fully recovered. Till this day, Shay believes Walters played a role in her expulsion.

But decades passed, and the issue was a distant memory…until Barbara Walters decided to include a story about “Nancy” in her autobiography, Audition. In the tome, Walters says “Nancy was kicked out midterm for bad behavior” and was “found in a nearby town, high on God-knows-what.”

After reading the book, Shay resurrected the issue in court. She filed suit against Barbara for tortious interference (with the school) and defamation. Unfortunately for Shay, though, the statute of limitations ran out on both charges. In addition, the judge ruled that the passages under review weren’t malicious or negligent, and therefore not defamatory.

The verdict is a bit ironic. Because at the time of the incident, a faculty member at the boarding school, who knew about the matter, approached Shay and explained to the young student that the school violated her (Shay’s)civil rights. That same teacher offered to represent Shay if she wished to sue.  Not wanting to bring any more attention to the issue, Shay declined the offer.

But now it’s too late. But, her story serves as a good reminder to check the defamation jurisdictional limitations before filing a slander or libel lawsuit.

Are you in need of a defamation attorney to assist with a legal matter? Contact Kelly / Warner to begin the conversation.

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