Florida: A nice place to visit, but…

Originally posted 2009-04-20 16:43:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Internet Solutions operates recruiting and Internet advertising businesses, including one called VeriResume. Tabatha Marshall runs a blog and website at www.tabathamarshall.com that monitors “phishing,” including dubious job pitches. One section of the blog focused on VeriResume, and the various users posted comments criticizing VeriResume. As the Citizens Media Law Project explains:

One user, who claimed to be a company employee, alleged that the company engages in a “bait-and-switch” routine after applicants submit their information, according to documents attached to the complaint. In an update to her original post, Marshall summarized these user’s comments and expounded on the situation. . . .

[ISC sued.] Internet Solutions’s complaint includes claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and injurious falsehood (trade libel). It alleges that Marshall has “author[ed], post[ed], and publish[ed]” statements claiming that Internet Solutions engages in “phishing,” “scams,” and other criminal and fraudulent conduct. It requests compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction requiring Marshall to remove the allegedly defamatory posts and prohibiting her from making future defamatory statements about the company.

On April 8th of last year, the court dismissed the complaint on the ground that it lacked personal jurisdiction over Marshall. Internet Solutions then appealed the dismissal to the 11th Circuit and the 11th Circuit certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court as follows: “Does posting allegedly defamatory stories and comments about a company with its principal place of business in Florida on a non-commercial website owned and operated by a nonresident with no other connections to Florida constitute a commission of a tortious act within Florida for purposes of Fla. Stat. section 48.193(1)(b)?”

This is the friend of the court brief filed (conditionally) by the Media Bloggers Association, urging the Florida Supreme Court to respond in the negative. The summary of our argument is as follows (from the brief):

Amicus curiae files this brief to urge this Court not to extend the Florida long-arm statute to reach what is in effect any non-commercial Internet website in the world, regardless of its connection to this State. Such a wide-ranging assertion of jurisdiction for defamation by long-arm jurisdiction would violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution’s guarantee of free speech by chilling protected journalism and commentary on the Internet. A finding that content or comment on a blog such as Ms. Marshall’s, which is for all meaningful purposes located in another state, constitutes “a tortious act within Florida” would be contrary to case law and would offend the constitutional policy, based on principles of due process, underlying personal jurisdiction. Amicus also urges the Court to decline to extend the Florida long-arm statute because of the conflict such an extension would create with 47 U.S.C. §230, which immunizes website operators from liability arising from the defamatory postings of others.

The brief is short and may be worth scanning if only to find the delicious–but entirely legally germane–punchline right before the Conclusion!

Major work on this filing was done by MBA intern Andie Schwartz and major thanks are due, of course, to Kevin Wimberly of Orlando’s Beusse Wolter Sanks Mora & Maire, P.A., which acted as pro bono local counsel.

(And guess who dragged us into this!)

Cross-posted on the MBA Legal blog.

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Author:Ron Coleman

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