Suing for Internet defamation in Florida? Make sure you pick the right venue.
If you file a defamation suit, make sure you do it in the right place. One part of the equation is jurisdiction - does the court have jurisdiction over the case and over the defendant. However, an oft-overlooked issue in Florida defamation law is the issue of venue.
Lets presume that you want to sue a blogger for defamation. The blogger is in Pensacola. You are in Miami. Naturally, you would rather file suit in Miami, so that you don't have to hire counsel hundreds of miles away.
Fla. Stat. § 770.05 codifies the “single publication rule" and limits the choice of venue for defamation actions. In relevant part, the statute states:
“No person shall have more than one choice of venue for damages for libel or slander, invasion of privacy, or any other tort founded upon any single publication ... Recovery in any action shall include all damages for any such tort suffered by the plaintiff in all jurisdictions." Fla. Stat. § 770.05.
The cause of action for defamation accrues at the time of the first publication of the allegedly defamatory comment. Fla. Stat. § 770.07. Florida law permits only four choices of venue for causes of action arising out of single publication: (1) where the libelous material was first published; (2) the county or counties where the publisher has an office used for conducting business; (3) where the publisher keeps an office for distribution; or (4) where the cause of action came into existence. Perdue v. Miami Herald Publishing Co., 291 So. 2d 604, 607 (Fla. 1974).
For venue purposes, a tort claim accrues “where the last event necessary to make he defendant liable for the tort took place or where the harmful effect of the defendant’s acts first took effect." Fla. Gamco, Inc. v. Fontaine, 68 So. 3d 923, 929 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011). Where publication is made through electronic means, Florida Courts hold that publication occurs in the county where the acts first took effect. Id. at 929, quoting Weinberg v. Weinberg, 936 So. 2d 707, 709 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006). A cause of action arises at the moment when the wrong and the injury both accrue.Id. Even if the plaintiff suffers further damages in another county, the tort occurs where the action first took effect. Id.
In other words, if the Defendant published his blog in Pensacola, then the tort occurred where the Blogger expressed himself, as the Plaintiff's reputation would have been harmed immediately upon publication.
In Fla. Gamco, Inc. v. Fontaine, a plaintiff brought a defamation claim officers of a corporation for a series of emails and phone calls. The Fourth DCA held that the defamation occurred at the time and place of the first publication of the e-mails and phone calls. Fla. Gamco, 68 So.3d at 930. Because the defamatory phone calls and emails emanated from Leon County, the tort occurred, for venue purposes, in Leon County. Id. The court recognized that the Plaintiff might have suffered injury elsewhere, but that the proper venue is where the first compensable damage occurs, not where subsequent damage – even greater subsequent damage – occurs. Id.(citing PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP v. Cedar Res., Inc., 761 So. 2d 1131, 1134 (Fla. 2d DCA 1999)).
When the defamatory publication is made over the Internet. The comments are published in the blogger's home venue – emanating from Pensacola.
Florida law mandates that the choice of venue in the instant case is limited to four choices of venue: (1) where the material was first published; (2) the county where the defendant conducts business; (3) where the publisher keeps his office for distribution; and (4) where the cause of action came into existence.
Therefore, under our hypothetical, venue is proper only in Pensacola.