First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
Oklahoma court overturns ruling against Web site

By The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — The state Court of Civil Appeals overturned a $3.7 million judgment against a Web site that published inaccurate information contained in a state sex-offender database.

Dennis L. Stewart was living in Collinsville when, a Web site run by Oklahoma Publishing Co. and Griffin Television, republished the Oklahoma Sex Offender Registry. Oklahoma Publishing Co. owns The Oklahoman newspaper. Griffin Television owns KWTV, channel 9, in Oklahoma City.

The sex-offender registry is maintained by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

It listed Stewart's address as that of a registered sex offender. However, the sex offender, Ron Wesley Lyon, no longer lived there. The information had not been changed in the Department of Corrections' registry, which was published on the Web site.

A neighbor obtained the information from and printed and distributed fliers.

Stewart sued for false-light invasion of privacy and defamation and won a $3.7 million judgment in Creek County District Court.

In its ruling on April 1, the appeals court reversed the judgment "because appellants were immune from liability for publication of privileged information."

Stewart's attorney, Steve Chlouber, told the Associated Press on April 2 he had not read the ruling and couldn't comment on whether he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

In his lawsuit, Stewart said the defendants had commercial interests and acted with reckless disregard. Stewart attempted to show that the Web site knew that the registry information could be incorrect, the order notes.

"NewsOK republished a public government document," the opinion by the appeals court states. "Such a publication is privileged and immune from liability."

Republication of the registry "was privileged as a matter of fair report," the opinion states.

The Web site was immune from liability, and the verdict should have been in its favor, the appeals court said.

An advocate for open records hailed the ruling.

"We are obviously thrilled with the court's decision," said Terri Watkins, president of Freedom of Information Oklahoma, which filed a brief supporting the defendants. "It was an important public-information and public-access issue."


Wisconsin lawmaker targets images that portray people in 'false light'

Bill sponsor says digital age has created new opportunities for people to stir up trouble by spreading hurtful false images, but journalists say measure would infringe on free speech. 08.30.01

Colorado high court reverses false-light verdict against newspaper
Justices reject man's claim that Rocky Mountain News invaded his privacy by falsely portraying him as member of a crime family. 09.17.02

Florida jury awards $18 million to road builder
Joe Anderson Jr. accused Pensacola News Journal of casting him in false light by implying he murdered his wife. 12.16.03

New Web site provides many state sex-offender registries
Users can more readily track convicted sex criminals if they move from state to state. 07.30.05

Ohio high court recognizes false-light claim
By Courtney Holliday Ruling in dispute between neighbors, justices for first time say false light is 'a viable, and we believe necessary, action for relief apart from defamation.' 07.31.07

N.Y. county revises online 'Wall of Shame' anti-DWI initiative
Day after judge rules that posting arrests violates due process, Nassau County executive says he'll wait until suspects are convicted before listing them on Web page. 10.22.08

Libel & defamation

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print

Last system update: Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 20:32:31
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links