Defamation on the internet? Not so, says a federal judge

Women can legally call their exes “scum” — or pretty much anything else — in dating forums online, according to a federal judge’s ruling…

The judge threw out a lawsuit by New York lawyer Matthew Couloute against two ex-lovers he said repeatedly trashed him on the website in early 2011…

Couloute, a former prosecutor and Court TV analyst, found these comments were the first hit when anyone searched online for his name … He sued his ex-lovers … calling the statements “malicious” and intended to destroy his career …

… New York Federal Judge Harold Baer said Couloute could not show he’d suffered any professional harm, and ruled the comments were not defamatory because they were “clearly hyperbolic… [T]here can be no doubt that a reasonable reader would understand the comments to be opinion,” Baer wrote. — Helen Kennedy, Daily News, February 21, 2012.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s entertaining and it’s a lawsuit. And it relates to other things I’ve written here on Sidebar about the perils of defamation actions.

I repeat what my erstwhile employer, Dave the Dude, a terrific lawyer, told me: “Anybody can sue anybody for anything.”

Yes, but as Matthew Couloute should have known — he’s a lawyer, after all — the codicil to Dave’s rule is: “Anybody can have the judge throw out his lawsuit and deem that He Who Was Thrown Out must pay all costs, and look really bad if the media grabs onto the story.”

Couloute said he will appeal. You’ve noticed that everybody says that, but as Couloute knows (he’s a lawyer), you can’t just appeal because you’re sulking over the decision. You must have specific appellate issues and only the 2d Circuit, the federal appellate court in the Southern District (Manhattan and points north) will determine whether Couloute has ’em or not. My guess? Not.

So the lesson we can learn from this episode is: the sterling defense against a defamation charge is the truth, even if it’s couched as slamming opinions.

Although the point I’m making about this news item — which is really kind of dishy— is not about sexual peccadillos, let me give Gloria Allred the last word on Couloute’s case:

“Women should have the right to warn each other about men that they believe have lied and cheated on them,” she said.

“If you are afraid that your lying and cheating might show up on the Internet, don’t lie and cheat.”

Next: Why this case leads to Part 5 in the mini-sub-saga of What can you do when your lawyer ignores you?

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