So, let's say Demented Diane sends Prat Perez an obscene, abusive email. Would Prat Perez be violating Demented Diane's rights if he published the email, complete with her email address and other personal information obtained from her email?
If you know the answer, you might want to tell annoying celeb trash-blogger Perez Hilton. Or maybe his lawyers.
See, Prat Perez is Perez Hilton. And Demented Diane is actually a woman named Diane Wargo, who sent Perez Hilton an email that said this, apparently triggered by Hilton's coverage of the travails of Angelia Jolie:
Perez you are a FAT GAY PIG! Angelina is a ugly whore! You hate her because she is a fag lover! Her brother is a gay little jerk just like your fat ugly ass! MANGELINA is a disgusting gross skank!
Now, Perez Hilton's own stuff is supremely obnoxious and profane, and this crap, as obnoxious as it is, is not more insulting or profane than the stuff that routinely goes on in the comments at Hilton's site. But it took Hilton's fancy, and he posted it — complete with the data about Diane Wargo that could be culled from her email to him, including the fact that she worked at an home for the aged called Menorah Park Center for Senior Living. That facility got some emails about Ms. Wargo, canned her, and sent Hilton an apology. Someone there liked Tomb Raider. Or hated Jennifer Aniston. Or something.
Anyway, this is America, so Wargo has now sued Hilton for $25 million through her attorney Brian Spitz, and the invaluable Smoking Gun has the complaint. Note how her attorney refers to her email to Hilton: he says it was "in the manner and language typical of PerezHilton.com." She's suing for defamation (apparently based on comments people left on the post about her), invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a contract relationship (apparently based on her loss of her job), and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
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Even with that, though, I don't know that the privacy claim has much merit. What are the damages? You could argue that the damages are the flood of nasty emails, lost job, and trashed reputation — but a decent lawyer should be able to convince the jury that those were the result of Diane Wargo's own choice of words. If she's sent a nice or reasoned email rather than a flaming homophobic creepy one, she'd not have suffered at all.
Plus, it appears she sent the email from her work account. Let me repeat: she sent an email to a notoriously vain, profane, irritable, antagonistic celebrity gossip blogger calling him a FAT GAY PIG from her work email. I think it's safe to say that Diane Wargo didn't move on to a job at NASA.
2. Defamation: sorry, Diane Wargo, but you don't point to anything Perez Hilton said about you that was false, and he can't be held liable for the nasty stuff his commenters said about you. Under the Communications Decency Act, a blogger like Hilton can't be held liable for the postings of third parties — like his crazed commenters — on his site. Here's another good source on that rule. Did attorney Brian Spitz know about this before filing, I wonder? Does Ohio have an anti-SLAPP statute? I know that if I were defending this in a court in California, I'd already be warning Wargo and Spitz about my hourly rate, because they'd probably wind up paying my fees to get the suit dismissed.
3. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Sorry, Diane Wargo, Hilton can't be held liable for his commenters under this theory either. To the extent you are saying his own action in posting your email was unlawful infliction of emotional distress, I think you have a tough road ahead. Under Ohio law you have to establish that the behavior was extreme and outrageous. But all he did was post your email, including the sender information, in all its glory. If the result was outrageous, that's only because the email was outrageous. Do you really think that a jury will want to reward you for being an ignorant asshole? Why should society protect you from the social consequences of your own words?
4. Tortious interference with contract: That's going to be a tough one as well. You've got to prove that Hilton intentionally procured the breach of your employment contract without justification. But wait a minute. Was your contract breached? Does the nursing home have an employment contract that says you won't be fired for using your work email account to send nasty homophobic emails to gossip bloggers? Somehow I think not. And how do you prove that Hilton intentionally procured the breach? And, by the way, I suspect that Hilton's statutory and First Amendment rights to publish a flame email you sent him constitutes "justification" under this test. So good luck with this one.
In short, the suit appears laughable. It will have the effect of prolonging Diane Wargo's fifteen minutes of misbegotten fame to a longer and more unpleasant Google eternity. And unless Ohio has an anti-SLAPP statute (and I couldn't find one), Hilton's going to have to pay a lot of money to get rid of the suit. Hooray for the court system! Loser pays, anyone?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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