On March 26, 2015, nine researchers published a study in the Environmental Science and Technology journal entitled “Impact of Natural Gas Extraction on PAH Levels in Ambient Air.” The study concluded that there may be a link between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and an increased risk of cancer. According to one of the authors, “Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them.”
In 2015, a jury delivered a $14.5 million verdict for Michael Geilenfeld in a federal defamation case. Last week, the court held that the plaintiff was living overseas, and, therefore, the U.S. federal district court did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
On May 16, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, ruled that Internet services that publish incorrect personal data may be sued only if a plaintiff can show that he or she has actually been harmed by the false information. Although the Court issued its opinion in the context of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Spokeo decision has significance in the reputational recovery realm too.
Robins, the original plaintiff in the case, sued Spokeo on his own behalf and on behalf of a class alleging that the company violated its obligations under the FCRA to provide accurate personal data. Spokeo operates a “people search engine” that provides information about individuals. When Robins searched for his own profile on Spokeo, the report stated that he is married, has children, is in his 50s, has a job, is relatively affluent and holds a graduate degree. None of this information was true. Robins claimed that he suffered harm because the inaccurate information posted by Spokeo could deter a prospective employer from hiring him.
On May 5, 2016, Arsenio Hall sued Sinead O’Connor for defamation, alleging that O’Connor falsely accused Hall of “supplying illegal ‘hard drugs’ ‘over the decades’ to the recently deceased musical artist, Prince, and of spiking [O’Connor] with drugs once years ago.” The complaint centers around the following May 2, 2016, statements posted on O’Connor’s official Facebook page:
Two words for the DEA investigating where prince got his drugs over the decades . . . . Arsenio Hall . . . . Anyone imagining [P]rince was not a long time hard drug user is living in cloud cuckoo land. Arsenio I’ve reported you to the Carver County Sherrif[f]’s office. Expect their call. They are aware you spiked me years ago at Eddie [M]urphy’s house. You best get tidying your man cave.
A critical factor in effectively defending corporate reputation is to know when to take action and when to walk away. Making that decision will often turn on the source of the attack and the credibility of the person or organization making the allegation. But what about false claims posted by anonymous sources on message boards or similar social media platforms? While the civil law provides mechanisms to obtain the true identity behind Internet pseudonyms, starting such litigation will inevitably require that the otherwise obscure allegations be repeated. On January 28, 2016, a company called U.S. Stem Cell, Inc. filed such a suit in the Circuit Court for Broward County, Florida.