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1st Circuit Court Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against Newsletter

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 15, 2015 7:00 AM

The trouble began when Pan Am Railway Co. together with its former president, David Fink, sued Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports in U.S. District Court in 2011. In Fink's complaint, he alleged that ANRP damaged his company by distributing defamatory articles via electronic and email newsletters.

Defendant Chalmers Hardenbergh responded with the legal equivalent of "so what?" and "don't shoot the messenger."

The Court's Decision

Judge Nancy Torreson found in favor of the paper and concluded that Pan Am couldn't prove that a defamation took place. In the opinion of the judge, Pan Am failed to prove any element of Defamation. She did, however, grant Pan Am a 30 day leave to amend its complaint. If Pan Am (Fink) chooses to do so, he has about half a month left to file.

Suits to Shut You Up

Corporate suits being used as a tactic to strong-arm weaker opponents is nothing new. But when the issue is speech related, courts and judges tend to scrutinize the facts that much more closely.

Still, this is America and the legal fees involved in defending such lawsuits can be onerous. It has often been said that while a motivation behind the American Rule is to encourage access to the courts, it also tends to encourage settlements and defeated acquiescence by weaker parties.

Pan Am had previously sued another publication and the legal fees eventually forced that defendant to sell his house. Hardenbergh's own attorney agreed to a reduced fee because of the heavy speech principal that was at stake. It underscores that when defending constitutional rights issues, sometimes a client's best financial option is to seek the help of civil rights groups.

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