Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Addresses Proper Venue for Defamation Claims Based Upon Internet Publications

In the case of Fox v. Smith, No. 39 EAP 2019 (Pa. Nov. 17, 2021) (Op. by Saylor, J.), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether the standards governing the selection of an appropriate venue of litigating libel or defamation claims grounded on newspaper publications should also be applied to causes of action premised upon internet-based publications.

The court reviewed the prior cases indicating that the applicable law of venue under Pa. R.C.P. 1006 and 2179 provides that an action against an individual or corporation may be commenced in a county in which the cause of action arose. Under prior Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent, relative to defamation and libel actions, a cause of action in this regard has been deemed to arise in locations where the publication of the statements had occurred.

In this case, a democratic candidate for Mayor of the Borough of Chester Heights in Delaware County was defeated in an election and, thereafter, brought a defamation action against her political opponent and certain other organizations, alleging defamation and other claims. The Complaint asserted that, during the campaign, the Defendant published information on the internet and on social media websites falsely accusing the Plaintiff of having been charged, in another state, with criminal conduct in the form of allegedly engaging in a fraudulent banking transaction.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled, on the facts before it, that venue in a defamation action arising from internet communications and/or publications is proper in any jurisdiction where comments were read by individuals who understood such comments to be defamatory. As such, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court rulings that overruled the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to venue.

The court stated that, when a person is defamed on the internet, which has worldwide reach, a defamation cause of action can arise in multiple venues. The court further held that an allegedly defamed Plaintiff could choose any venue in which publication and the injury occurred, even if the publications occurred in many different venues.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Dec. 7, 2021).

Source of image:  Photo by Headway on www.unsplash.com.

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