Newspaper Web sites could open doors to lawsuits
AAN joins an Amicus Curiae brief, filed Jan. 23 in federal court, involving news coverage of the housing of Connecticut inmates in Virginia prisons and whether a newspaper’s Web site opens it to jurisdiction in distant states.
The case stems from news coverage of a Connecticut decision to transfer prisoners to a correctional facility in Virginia as a way to save money and reduce overcrowding. Questions were raised in the media about the allegedly abusive treatment prisoners received in Virginia. Most of the news media in Connecticut, including Tribune Co. newspapers The Hartford Courant and AAN-member New Haven Advocate, covered the issue extensively.
The Courant and Advocate articles either mentioned the Virginia prison warden, Stanley Young, by name, or referred to items in his office depicting the Confederate flag and other Civil War memorabilia.
Young subsequently filed a libel suit in a federal District Court in Virginia, alleging, among other things, that the articles imply that he is a racist who condones mistreatment of the prison’s inmates.
The Advocate and Courant retained the prominent law firm Baker & Hostetler and filed motions to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. They argued that neither Virginia law nor due process permitted two Connecticut newspapers with little circulation in Virginia to be haled into court in that state.
However, because all of the articles were also posted on the newspapers’ Web sites, the court was asked to address whether this additional factor was sufficient to support personal jurisdiction in Virginia.
The court decided the motion solely on the basis of the Internet publication, holding that “information placed on an Internet website should be subjected to multistate jurisdiction.” The Internet presence was sufficient to satisfy due process limitations, the Court said.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the decision for review last month.
“The significance of this case — we believe it will be the first review by a federal appeals court of the jurisdictional significance of Internet publication (as opposed to successful solicitation of business from residents) – makes amici support essential,” the Tribune attorneys argue.
Two law professors from the University of Virginia Law School prepared the amicus brief.
These media companies or organizations have joined the brief: Advance Publications, Inc., American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Belo Corporation, Bloomberg L.P., Center for Democracy & Technology, Daily News, L.P., Dow Jones & Company, Inc., El Dia, Inc., The E.W. Scripps Company, The Hearst Corporation, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., Magazine Publishers of America, The McClatchy Company, National Association of Broadcasters, Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association, Newspaper Association of America, The New York Times Company, Online News Association, Radio-Television News Directors Association, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Village Voice Media, Inc., The Washington Post Company, Ziff Davis Media, Inc.