The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that bloggers receive the same First Amendment protection as traditional members of the press when facing defamation charges. Writing the majority opinion, Judge Andrew Hurwitz held that, “[t]he protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities . . . [because] in defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue — not the identity of the speaker — provide the First Amendment touchstones.”
The plaintiffs, Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick, sued blogger Crystal Cox for defamation after Cox wrote about the plaintiffs’ allegedly fraudulent conduct on her blog. Cox’s blog states that she is dedicated to, “Exposing Obsidian Finance Group and Kevin D. Padrick for Abuse of his Power as Trustee in the Summit Accomodators.” The defamation claim cites a number of Cox’s blog posts regarding the plaintiffs’ alleged bankruptcy code violations. Cox’s blog claims the plaintiffs were involved with corruption, deceit on the government, and money laundering, among other claims.
The court, citing Gertz v. Welch, held that the plaintiffs had the burden of proving negligence for their defamation claim despite the fact that Cox is not an institutional media defendant. Judge Hurwitz distinguished between matters of private and public concern, holding that Cox’s allegations are a matter of public concern as the post concerned alleged fraud upon Obsidian’s investors and the blog post was published to “the public at large.”
The case was on appeal from a December 2013 judgment ruling for the plaintiff in which Cox was ordered to pay $2.5 million for damages sustained by the plaintiff.
Samantha Scheller is a 2L at the UNC School of Law.