Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cruse v. Teacher Smackdown Lawsuit Dismissed - Updated

From Citizen Media Law Project:
Loretta DiAnne Cruse, a former special-ed teacher at Norfolk Elementary School in Arkansas, sued the Teacher Smackdown website, 451 Press, LLC, which operates the website, and various individuals associated with it, including professional blogger Anne-Marie Nichols, for defamation and other claims in Arkansas state court. Teacher Smackdown is a watchdog site, which describes its function as "identif[ying] the molesters, thieves, and lecherous adults masquerading as teachers in our society" and "giv[ing] parents resources and information on protecting our kids and identifying these monsters." According to the complaint, an April 18, 2007 article written by Nichols falsely claimed that Cruse "plead guilty to endangering the welfare of a minor and physically abus[ing] the handicapped minor, when, in fact, she was acquitted of the crime at trial." [...]

03/19/09 - The Arkansas court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction over the defendants. Nichols lives in Colorado and 451 Press is based in Alabama.

04/29/09 - Cruse has said that she might appeal the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

* * * * *

Arkansas Teacher Sues Website for Defamation
[Previous 6/3/08 post]
(Mountain Home, Arkansas) A 60-year-old former teacher at Norfolk Elementary School, Loretta DiAnne Cruse, has filed a civil lawsuit against a blog in Baxter County Circuit Court, alleging defamation.

Cruse seeks $1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

The lawsuit alleges that the web site known as Teacher Smackdown published malicious false statements that damaged her reputation while profiting financially.
Cruse was a special education teacher at Norfork Elementary School when she allegedly abused a nonverbal 8-year-old student by putting a dirty trash can over his head and hitting the can several times. She also threw water and put a ski mask on the child and slapped his hands, according to court documents.

Cruse was suspended in December 2006, and arrested March 23 after a three-month investigation. District Judge Van Gearhart later found her not guilty of a criminal charge stemming from the incident in a court trial.
From my perspective, a long-distance observation by a non-expert, the case seems weak. The only false information I've found on Teacher Smackdown (4/9/07 entry) appears to be the statement that Cruse pleaded guilty when, in fact, she was acquitted.

Regarding malicious intent, I found none, however, the subject web pages referenced in the lawsuit are inaccesssible for some reason. In any event, extreme mental anguish resulting in physical stress and harm is claimed by Cruse.

And, then there's this:
The comments on the Web site were posted on the site's Arkansas page until late April or early May of 2008, according to Cruse's lawsuit. The comments also were posted in four other places, including a child-abuse section that also displayed photos and information about teachers and daycare workers accused of raping, murdering and sexually abusing children, according to the lawsuit.

Cruse claims the defendants' actions were "willful and malicious" and that they profit financially from the Web site. The lawsuit also states the Web site allowed posters to comment anonymously to generate controversy and increase Web site traffic, and the Web site should be held liable for the published defamation, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges the defendants violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by using deception, fraud and false pretense in connection with its advertisement of goods and services. As a result, the defendants should be liable for Cruse's lost wages and attorney fees, as well as any other available damages, with enhanced penalties since Cruse is older than 60, according to the lawsuit.
So, the lawsuit contends that allowing commenters to remain anonymous is malicious and intended to generate controversy. Therefore, Teacher Smackdown should be held liable for readers' comments.

Like I said, the case looks weak to me but who knows what's going to happen in Baxter County, Arkansas. Cruse wants a trial by jury and we all know how unpredictable that can be.

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