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Minnesota high court: Internet critic can't be sued in Alabama

By The Associated Press

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Supreme Court refused on March 10, 2003, to consider Katherine Griffis' appeal of the Minnesota high court decision.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The state Supreme Court has ruled that a Minnesota woman who wrote a message on the Internet critical of an Alabama scholar cannot be sued for libel in the scholar's home state.

The woman's lawyer said the July 11 ruling shows that free-speech rules covering newspapers, magazines or television also apply to a new medium like the Internet.

The high court vacated a $25,000 judgment against Marianne Luban, whose criticism on an Internet newsgroup devoted to Egyptology was directed at Katherine Griffis, a scholar living in Alabama.

The Internet posting mentioned that Griffis had ties to Alabama, and the scholar sued for libel in her home state. Luban refused to attend court sessions, her lawyers arguing that Alabama did not have jurisdiction, leading to the default judgment.

Griffis then asked a Minnesota court to enforce the award.

Luban's attorney argued the initial suit should have been filed in Minnesota, saying most libel cases involving printed materials occur in the place where the statement is produced.

The high court's unanimous decision overturned rulings in two lower Minnesota courts upholding the Alabama verdict.

"The fact that messages posted to the newsgroup could have been read in Alabama, just as they could have been read anywhere in the world, cannot suffice to establish Alabama as the focal point of the defendant's conduct," the court's opinion said.

Griffis' attorney, Peter Erlinder, said he might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We think the court simply misread the law," he said, adding that the ruling effectively gives Minnesotans freedom "to attack people anywhere in the world" without having to consider the harm done in alleged libel victims' home areas.

Luban's attorney, John Borger, said the ruling extended traditional libel protections to cyberspace.

"Engaging in a general discussion to a general audience will not be enough to lead to a suit elsewhere even if the person being talked about lives in another state or country," he said.

Borger told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press that Griffis could not file a libel suit in Minnesota because the statute of limitations had run out.

Internet's reach confounds Minnesota high court in free-speech case
Justices must decide if scholar had right to bring libel suit in her home state simply because former St. Paul resident mentioned her Alabama ties in online criticism. 03.07.02


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