Woman Falsely Identified In Crime Stoppers Video Footage Posted Online
About two years ago, Shayla Funk, an occupational therapist, rolled up to an ATM, typed in her password, and took money from her account.
Little did she suspect that her ATM visit would result in a forced unpaid leave from her job – but that’s what happened.
Recently, however, Funk finally found redress via a $75,000 defamation award.
Police Department Posts Video in Attempt to Capture ATM Thief
“This young lady doesn’t look like your typical crook, but she is. She used someone’s stolen credit card and made a fake deposit at the ATM, then withdrew some cash. If you know who she is, leave us a tip HERE!”
Posted on linconcrimestoppers.com, the above caption accompanied video footage that featured Shayla Funk removing money from a bank machine. To make matters messier, a local TV station aired two segments about the story.
Women Suspended From Work Over Online Video
Predictably, people failed to practice restraint in the face of allegations (see recent Reddit debacle); in the court of public opinion, Funk had been tried and convicted. Even her boss, ostensibly aware of the allegations, opted to put her on unpaid leave.
But despite the jeers and sneers, Funk remained adamant that she was accessing her account, not stealing. Eventually, she filed an online defamation lawsuit against the Lincoln-Lancaster Crime Stoppers, Inc. and Lincoln Police Department – the parties reportedly responsible for linconcrimestoppers.com.
Bank’s Erroneous Time Stamp Leads To Misidentification and Defamation
Funk told the truth. She wasn’t a thief. The time-stamp on the bank’s security camera was incorrect, which precipitated handing over the wrong footage to police. Oops.
“Not My Website”
At trial, the defendants were playing a game of hot potato with the website on which the contested content appeared. Nobody wanted to admit they had control of the website. But evidence surfaced: an email, written by a police head, which referred to the site as “our website.”
In the end, the jury awarded Funk $75,000 in defamation damages – as the incident did have a materially negative effect on her life and career.
To Avoid A Defamation Lawsuit, Is “IMO” Enough?
Defamation law is widely misunderstood. Some people wrongly think defamation is simply a “negative opinion.” Other folks mistakenly believe adding “In my opinion” or “IMO” is a magical litigation shield, capable of warding off all defamation actions.
Neither assumption is accurate; negative opinions are a legitimate form of speech. And slapping an IMO in front of a false statement of fact may not keep you out of a courtroom.
Four Pillars of U.S. Defamation Law
So, what constitutes defamation in the United States? At the very least, to win a slander (spoken defamation) or libel (written or graphic defamation) lawsuit, plaintiffs must prove that:
- The defendants made an unprivileged, false statement of fact,
- About the plaintiff, which
- Caused material or reputational harm, and
- The defendants (depending on their public status) were either negligent in publicizing the information or acted with actual malice [linked].
Defamation law is nuanced. The four fundamentals are just the tip of the slander and libel law iceberg. If you want a more detailed explanation, head to our U.S. defamation law database by clicking here. You’ll find more detailed explanations of federal slander and libel regulations, in addition to statutes for all 50 states. To read more defamation law case studies, click here.
Speak With A Defamation Lawyer
Are you ready to speak with an attorney about an online reputation attack or defamation issue? A top AV-rated firm, with a 10-out-of-10 rating on lawyer review website AVVO.com, Kelly Warner lawyers understand the nooks and crannies of Internet defamation law – both online and off.
Pilger, L. (2015, July 8). Jury awards $75K in libel suit against Crime Stoppers. Retrieved August 24, 2015, from http://journalstar.com/news/local/911/jury-awards-k-in-libel-suit-against-crime-stoppers/article_8cd1502a-7cd0-5356-b266-97971ea124c5.html
In the not too distant past, a woman named Hanna Bouveng and her then-boss Benjamin Wey crossed a professional line. Gifts were given; apartments were allegedly financed; then things changed, and corporeal advances were supposedly spurned. In the end, Wey fired Bouveng.
Soon, disparaging statements about Bouveng started showing up on Wey’s blog. In retaliation, Bouveng filed a lawsuit – claiming various defamation and harassment violations. In the end, a jury awarded Bouveng $18 million.
Bouveng v. Wey Defamation Case Basics
Plaintiff: Hanna Bouveng, who describes herself on LinkedIn as being in “Corporate Communications, Marketing, PR”
Defendant: Benjamin Wey, CEO New York Global Group
Venue: Manhattan Federal Court
Why did Bouveng sue Wey: Essentially, Bouveng believed her firing was a product of sexual harassment and retaliation. She also argued that Wey’s blog posts – which allegedly referred to her as a “street walker” and a “loose woman” who engaged in “mafia style shakedowns” – were defamatory. Her side also argued that Wey used his position of power to coerce Bouveng into a prurient relationship.
Wey’s Defense: In response to Bouveng’s charges, Wey claimed that Bouveng’s lawsuit was an extortion attempt and insisted she was fired for substandard work. During the trial, Wey’s lawyer admonished that “both sides behaved badly.” Team Wey also acquiesced that the finance boss had “diarrhea of the keyboard” and acted inappropriately, but maintained that his actions did not amount to the charges.
Jury Decision: Though Bouveng had originally asked for over $500 million, the jurors awarded her $18 million, as they only granted the defamation and retaliation claims.
Interesting Post Script: Wey is currently being sued for defamation by another party in an unrelated lawsuit. Georgetown University law professor Christopher Brummer says, “Wey waged an online smear campaign against him in retaliation for an adverse ruling from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.” ( Bouveng v. NYG Capital LLC et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 14-cv-5474.)
Update: After losing the defamation case against Bouveng, Wey once again took to his online outlet to share views on the decision. In his rant, Wey allegedly called Bouveng’s attorneys “crooks” and deemed one of them a “midget.” So, now the two lawyers are suing Wey. You can read more about it here.
Consult With A Professional Defamation Lawsuit
Kelly Warner maintains an active professional defamation legal practice and routinely handles cases involving former employees and partnership disputes. To learn more about our firm, please visit our primary website, here. If you’re ready to speak with an attorney, contact us.
Badia, E., & Slattery, D. (2015, June 26). Wall Street CEO behaved badly but isn’t stalker, lawyer says. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/wall-street-ceo-behaved-badly-isn-stalker-lawyer-article-1.2273087
Khan, M. (2015, June 30). US: Wall Street investment banker wins £11m in sexual harassment case. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/us-wall-street-investment-banker-wins-11m-sexual-harassment-case-1508706
Ax, J. (2015, June 29). UPDATE 2-N.Y. financier ordered to pay ex-employee $18 mln in harassment case. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
Seeking Alpha is the TMZ of the trading industry — an online platform of gossip and speculation: some of which is accurate, some of which is planted public relations spin and some of which is false. So, what happens if you or your fund is defamed on Seeking Alpha? Can you sue for libel? Do you have a shot at winning?
We’ll answer these questions below and examine a pair of recent Seeking Alpha defamation lawsuits. If you have an urgent situation and need to speak with an attorney yesterday, get in touch with Aaron Kelly “ a top-rated finance defamation lawyer“ here.
Can You Sue For Defamation Over A Statement Posted On Seeking Alpha?
Yes, you can file a “seeking alpha defamation lawsuit” if someone lies about you or your business on the website. The main question is: What constitutes defamation?
Each state’s libel statutes vary slightly and have their own set of case law, but all jurisdictions must adhere to the four elements of federal defamation law:
- Falsity:The declaration at issue must be a false statement of fact. As the adage goes: It’s not defamation if it’s true. (Note: In rare circumstances, a true statement can be deemed legally defamatory. Talk to an attorney to find out if your situation qualifies.)
- Specificity: Plaintiffs in defamation lawsuits must prove they are the party being defamed. In some cases, the defendant may not name names, but give identifying information; the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the defendant was “talking about” the plaintiff.
- Multi-Party Communication: “ More than one person has to read or hear the statements under review for it to be defamatory.
- Negligence or Actual Malice: “To win a defamation lawsuit, proving that a person or business published inaccurate information is not enough. The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant knowingly lied with the intent to cause harm. Whether or not the standard of negligence or actual malice is applied depends on the facts of the case and the “public status” of the plaintiff. (Find out more about actual malice here.)
Seeking Alpha Defamation Lawsuit Case Studies
“Pump Terminator” Defamed Our Fund
Seeking Alpha user “Pump Terminator” cost NanoViricides Inc. — bio-pharma company “serious money.” Or, at least so says NanoViricides. How? After Pump Terminator took to Seeking Alpha and announced plans to short NanoViricides stock, it fell faster than Newton’s apple.
So, the company filed a defamation lawsuit.
The judge in the case, though sympathetic to the plaintiff, ruled that Pump Terminator’s anonymous quips on Seeking Alpha could not be deemed defamatory. She reasoned that Seeking Alpha is:
“a repository of a wide range of casual emotive and imprecise speech, and that users not attribute the same level of credence to the statements they would accord to statements made in another context.”
In other words: Don’t believe everything they read on Internet review websites.
Now, does the outcome of the Pump Terminator case mean that all Seeking Alpha defamation lawsuits will fail? To put it bluntly, “hell, no!” Internet libel is a nuanced area of law. Just because one case fails, doesn’t mean another will. Your best bet is always to consult a lawyer about the facts of your case.
Greenlight Complains, Then Refrains
Several months ago, hedge fund Greenlight Capital Inc. (CGI) requested a court order forcing SeekingAlpha.com to turn over identifying information about an anonymous user. Firm executives were fuming over a major merger leak that ultimately cost CGI lots of dough.
And though plaintiffs have succeeded in unearthing anonymous posters in the past for purposes of defamation lawsuits, Seeking Alpha pushed back and won. The website was not forced to hand over any personally identifying information about the user in question.
Interestingly, this case came in with a roar and went out with a whimper. Several months after commencement, CGI quietly withdrew the complaint. Case closed.
Speak With A Finance Libel Lawyer
Do you have Seeking Alpha defamation issues of your own? Get in touch with Aaron Kelly, founding partner at Kelly / Warner law. He’s effectively handled many finance defamation cases (even ones that seemed like an impossibility, at first) and has considerable experience with Internet defamation law.
Aaron’s forte is getting situations cleaned up quickly and quietly. The statute of limitations isn’t long, so get in touch today to begin the conversation.
The verdict in Obsidian Financial Group LLC v. Cox is in. Advantage: boutique investment firm. A judge ordered the self-styled “investigative blogger” Crystal Cox to fork over $2.5 million in damages. Financial analysts and bankers are thrilled; First Amendment advocates aren’t impressed.
The Crystal Cox Defamation Lawsuit Background
A self-described whistle blower, Cox is a real estate agent by day and Internet vigilante by night. Among her cadre of “investigative websites” was obsidianfinancialsucks.com, an outlet Ms. Cox used to accuse Kevin Padrick “one of Obsidian’s founding financial executives” of fraud, misappropriation of funds, lie telling, and a litany of other unscrupulous actions. Cox even insinuated Padrick may have hired an assassin to silence her.
As a result of her online accusations, Mr. Padrick decided to sue for defamation. He maintained his company lost considerable business thanks to Ms. Cox’s allegedly misleading statements. Padrick explained that the Internet was awash with disparaging claims that damaged him financially.
Defamation Pro Se Trial
In court, representing herself pro se, Cox argued that her blog posts were journalistic, of pubic concern, and that the Oregon retraction laws should apply to her situation (retraction laws allow journalists to correct or retract defamatory statements in lieu of compensatory damages.).
The Definition of Journalist When It Comes To Online Defamation Lawsuits
Judge, Marco A. Hernandez, however, rejected the assertion that Cox was a journalist.
By applying Oregon law, Hernandez ruled Cox could not be treated as a journalist because:
- She did not have a formal education in journalism
- She did not hold proof of affiliation with a recognized news entity
- She arguably didn’t adhere to journalistic standards such as editing and fact checking
- She did not keep notes of conversations and interviews conducted
- She could not produce evidence that she had a mutual understanding or an agreement between the defendant and his or her sources
- She did not contact the grieved party, before publishing, to get both sides of the story
Offering SEO Services Sunk Cox
In addition to the legal Oregon defamation elements noted above, perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against Cox was an email, presented as evidence by the defense, wherein Cox offered Padrick online reputation management services for $2,500 a month.
In the eyes of the court, the email helped to disqualify Cox for journalistic immunity. After all, the offending email framed Cox as someone who was actively looked to profit off her statements, and thanks to the presence of the email, the defense could argue that Cox was essentially holding Padrick’s business reputation hostage.
The Right Defamation Decision, But At What Cost?
Based on the above defamation definition elements — and the fact that Cox couldn’t prove wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Padrick, it’s no surprise that Obsidian Financial and its executive emerged victorious.
That being said, many people are concerned about the unintended First Amendment ramifications this decision may have on Internet bloggers in the future. Many folks wonder how well bloggers, who work for online magazines or news organizations, fit into the qualifying factors listed by Hernandez. For instance, not every blogger working for a news organization has a journalism degree.
The financial defamation lawsuit of Crystal Cox is sure to play a role in future blogger defamation lawsuits; it’s established legal precedence that is certain to be tested and challenged in the coming years.