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Holmes v. Love

By Pia Katerina Tempongko

According to the company website, Twitter was created in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass, and launched in July 2006. As of December 31, 2015, the social media platform had more than 320 million users, with one billion unique visits monthly to sites with embedded tweets. Twitter has been used for different purposes -- crowdsourcing, business promotion, keeping up with the news, favorite celebrities, brands, restaurants, microblogging, maintaining connections with peers, and perhaps the most common use of it all -- Twitter serves as an avenue for anyone who uses it to exercise his or her right to freedom of speech. As Twitter's website states: "Tell your stories here."

Courtney Love Cobain, an American actress, singer, and songwriter, has been a household name for the past three decades. She is the lead singer of the rock band Hole and also the widow of Kurt Cobain, who was the lead singer of the rock band Nirvana. Her mainstream popularity can be attributed to her success in the worlds of music, acting, fashion, and lately, her Twitter presence. Like many celebrities, Cobain tweets to share her thoughts, one of which (famously dubbed as "Twibel") is the subject of this case.

After her husband's death, Cobain believed that various persons defrauded her, her daughter and her husband's estate that was worth millions of dollars. Cobain hired plaintiff Rhonda J. Holmes in 2008 to represent her and investigate her claims. Holmes worked on Cobain's claims from December 2008 through May 2009, and helped Cobain draft a press release that was published in the New York Post on April 7, 2009. The article quoted Holmes as stating she had "been able to "track down" $30 million but that more was missing and that they will be filing civil cases within the next 30 days." Cobain sent 80 boxes of documents to Holmes to help in preparing the complaint. Based on the press release and the documents sent, Cobain expected Holmes to file a civil case by May 7, 2009. However, Holmes did not file a complaint, and later told Cobain that her computer was hacked. Holmes also stated the following: that Cobain's former counsel threatened her, $140,000 was stolen from Holmes's bank account, Holmes had been a victim of credit card fraud, and her phone was tapped. Holmes claimed that these incidents occurred because of the press release. Holmes emailed Cobain on May 8, 2009, stating she was still representing her client. However, that was the last time Cobain heard from Holmes, and no complaint was ever filed on Cobain's behalf.

By June 2010, more than a year after the New York Post press release, Cobain assumed that Holmes had decided not to continue representing her, and tried to determine if Holmes "vanished" or was bought off. In what Cobain thought to be a private Twitter conversation, she was asked by two users if she thought that her lawyer was bought off. She replied, "I was f*****g devastated when Rhonda J. Holmes, Esquire, of San Diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote." She removed the tweet after five to seven minutes.

Holmes filed a case of libel per se because of this tweet, and the jury returned a special verdict stating that the Twitter statement was false and had a natural tendency to injure Holmes's profession. However, the jury did not believe that Holmes proved by clear and convincing evidence that Cobain knew the statement was false or had serious doubts about the truth of the statement.

In the case of New York times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) 376 U.S. 254, the Court ruled that actual malice is required to prevail on a liber per se claim. There has to be a clear and convincing proof of a knowing falsehood or of reckless disregard of the truth. Recovery by public officials in defamation actions is constitutionally barred unless evidence is produced of either deliberate falsification or reckless publication despite the publisher's awareness of probable falsity. The crucial focus of actual malice is the defendant's attitude or state of mind toward the allegedly libelous material published. (McCoy v. Hearst Corp. (1986) 42 Cal.3d 835, 860). In this case, the jury found that Holmes failed to prove actual malice and failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that Cobain knew the tweet was false or had serious doubts about the truth of her statement. The jury came to this conclusion by examining the surrounding circumstance that led to the Twitter statement. Although Cobain's statement was injurious to Holmes, the jury did not find malice, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Public figures benefit from using Twitter, but accessibility and freedom of speech make celebrities easy targets, as the spotlight is on them 24/7 and the standard in defamation cases concerning public figures is high.

Holmes v. Love (http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/B256367.PDF)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 22, 2016 3:52 PM.

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