U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

7th Cir. Rules on 'Our Lady of America' Defamation Case

The Seventh Circuit's Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's injunction ordering the complete shutdown of a blog in a legal battle over religious artifacts and defamation.

Being called a "fake nun" -- have any more libelous words ever been put to paper?

Visions of the Virgin

Sometime in the 1950s, Sister Mary Ephram saw visions of the Virgin Mary in Rome Indiana, which beckoned her to create programs to promote "Our Lady of America" in the region. Decades later, the previously bosom friends to the cause would be embroiled in a bitter legal battle.

Plaintiffs Kevin McCarthy (no relation to the actor or politician) and Albert Langsenkamp used to be on good terms with Patricia Fuller, previously known as Sister Mary Joseph Therese. They had arranged with Fuller in a previous time to promote the 1950s alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary in Rome City, Indiana under a series of programs first started by Sister Mary Ephram. When Ephram passed, she gifted certain religious possessions to Fuller.

Breakdown

In 2005, the relationship between the two men and Fuller was wonderful. Then things deteriorated: allegedly defamatory statements were made and Fuller got outed as not as sister. In retaliation, Fuller unleashed her own brand of mud-slinging through the aid of a retired postal inspector, Hartman. The jury was, unfortunately, very broad as to what it found to be defamatory statements. Nevertheless, one of the rulings by the court was that Hartman was to take down his blog.

Statements? Or the Whole Darn Thing?

The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the jury was not asked specifically to identify which of the handful of potentially defamatory statements were actually defamatory. As such, the injunction did not have the required elements to be valid. What's more, the order to have Hartman take down his entire blog was overly broad.

Posner Power

Though the circuit unanimously agreed on the issue of the injunction being overbroad, there was a split as to whether or not the Circuit should even allow the district judge Lawrence to be the issuing judge. Nevertheless, Judges Posner and Williams sent the case back to Lawrence to consider either issuing a new injunction, or modifying it. Either way, they cautioned Lawrence to previous warnings by the Seventh Circuit in the previous McCarthy case ...

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