It looks like David Lat & Co. at Above the Law may have little reason to worry about the lawsuit filed against them by a law professor they nicknamed “The Nutty Professor.”
University of Miami law professor Donald Jones filed his pro se complaint in federal court in Florida last week.
He repeatedly states that ATL‘s actions were racially motivated and that his reputation has been harmed, which, we imagine, is not something the site takes lightly, regardless of legalities. However, he does not make a defamation claim and instead sues for false light, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement, which, based on Florida law, narrows the discussion.
Let’s break down the allegations and project a winner.
- False Light – The professor alleges that ATL portraying him as a “dope dealer” and a “pimp” and calling him the “nutty professor” placed him in a false light, causing at least $2 million in damages. He asks for $20 million in punitive damages. Unfortunately, as of the 2008 Jews for Jesus case, false light is not recognised as a cause of action in Florida. WINNER: ATL
- Invasion of Privacy – Jones alleges that ATL continues to portray him as a criminal and that they invaded his privacy by “making private records public.” He again asks for $2 million in damages and $20 million in punitives. The website printed the incident report. Information generated in a criminal case by a public document generally cannot be the subject of an invasion of privacy claim. There are also, of course, defenses that this was just publication of facts of public concern. WINNER: ATL
- Copyright Infringement – Jones says that ATL used a picture from the University of Miami website without permission and thus, violated the copyright. He neglects to say that he owns the copyright to the portrait (presumably the university and the photographer would be in line for that first). Perhaps more facts will show Jones owned the rights to the picture and. Until then, EDGE: ATL
Others evaluating the lawsuit have come down pretty much the same way, including the Copyrights and Campaigns blog, whose post title includes a suggestion that the professor return to complaint-drafting school. The blog’s author, Ben Shefner, also argues that any claims based on the collage the complaint repeatedly cites (it depicts Jones soliciting prostitutes outside of a supermarket) would be barred by the Communications Decency Act, which he argues has been interpreted to protect ATL from information provided to it by another content provider — here, a reader email. This point is up for debate, but could be included as a defence.
Point of Law asks whether ATL may avail itself of Florida’s Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (called anti-SLAPP laws), but Harvard’s Citizen Media Law Project indicates Florida’s laws are too narrow to apply here.
The complaint is strangely written, with grammar errors and spacing issues here and there, and at one point says he was detained by police in October 2007 when it was apparently in August. We wonder if the professor, who is clearly bothered by the tone taken by the posts really just wants them permanently removed and thought a lawsuit would be the quickest way to get there.
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