A judge in Minnesota held that a blogger could be liable for intentionally interfering with an employment contract by allegedly causing the plaintiff to be fired. The blogger not only claimed the plaintiff was involved in a “high profile fraudulent mortgage” but also allegedly threatened the plaintiff’s employer with a negative PR campaign.
The court’s opinion notes that the jury found the blog post was not false for purposes of defamation but nevertheless found interference, possibly arising from the PR campaign. The First Amendment bars liability for true speech absent extreme circumstances. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation, and the Supreme Court has held that, at least where speech relates to matters of public concern, plaintiffs cannot circumvent the law of defamation by suing under alternate theories.
The most famous such case is Hustler v. Falwell, where the Court rejected the Minister’s emotional distress claim against the pornographic magazine, which published an “ad” implying that Falwell had an incestuous encounter with his mother. The Court held that the “parody defense” defeated not just the defamation claim but other claims as well. This year the Court in Snyder v. Phelps, citing Hustler, held that the First Amendment barred claims for intrusion upon seclusion and civil conspiracy. The Court has also held that boycotted businesses cannot recover lost profits from peaceful protesters.
The Volokh Conspiracy understands the ruling may be appealed and cites to several lower court cases that disposed of interference claims against truth-speakers.
After Snyder, the subject of mortgage fraud meets the threshold for a matter of public concern. Assuming the blog post reported true facts, the First Amendment should have barred recovery for the plaintiff’s monetary and emotional damages. An exception to First Amendment safeguards for speakers intending to harm a subject’s career (i.e. most political speech) would improperly focus on motive rather than the value of the speech. Even if the blogger’s post was not of public concern, a court should not penalize true speech absent a recognized privacy interest in the subject matter.