Iowa Supreme Court on Defamation

In a lengthy opinion released today, the Iowa Supreme Court tackled the intricate legal issue of defamation in Iowa.  In Gail Bierman and Beth Weier vs. Scott Weier and Author Solutions, Inc., the Court analyzed the history of Iowa and Federal defamation law.  Generally, the tort of defamation requires publication (spoken is slander, printed is libel) of a defamatory statement which was false and malicious, made of and concerning the plaintiff, which causes injury.  The Weier opinion analyzes the level of proof required in certain scenarios, including who made the statement and the content of the statement.  The Court also reiterated that plaintiffs must show more evidence to prove defamation if the actor is determined to be a "media defendant," rather than a private person, although Justices Hecht and Appel disagreed with this distinction.

So, if you have a free hour and a strong desire to understand Iowa defamation law (particularly libel), click on the link above and enjoy 68 pages of fun.  


Polk City Sign Language: Freedom of Speech or Defamation?

In the Des Moines Register today, Jeff Eckhoff wrote a story today about businessman Anthony Herman in Polk City, Iowa.  Apparently, Mr. Herman is involved in several legal battles with the City of Polk City, and began using a sign on his property to display his distaste for the City using choice statements about the Mayor and members of the City Council.  The Polk City city council "has no plans to try to interfere with his right to free speech." 

Pursuant to a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case (an oldie but a goodie), Polk City might face a tough challenge regulating Herman.  In Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that "the State may not, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, make the simple public display of [an] expletive a criminal offense."  Justice Harlan famously wrote that "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric."

As individuals, the Polk City Mayor and City Council could try to sue Herman on defamation grounds.  However, the City officials would probably be considered "public officials."  To prove libel (written defamation), the Polk City officials need to prove that 1) the statements were defamatory; 2) of and concerning the city officials; 3) the statements were published; 4) the statements damaged the reputation of the officials; 5) that Herman knew the statements were false; and 6) that his statements were made with reckless disregard of the truth.