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Federal Judge Makes Short Work of Post-Expungement Defamation Claim

Recently, the New York Times ran an op-ed about the case of Linda Martin against newspapers that had originally published articles about her arrest.  Ultimately, her arrest was expunged under Connecticut law, but the articles have remained in posterity.  She then filed a putative class action alleging that, by failing to delete the account of her arrest, which under law is deemed to have not actually ever occurred due to expungement, continued publication means that true articles are now false and defamatory.

Case docket: Martin v. Hearst Corporation et al may be found here:  http://ia601701.us.archive.org/15/items/gov.uscourts.ctd.97758/gov.uscourts.ctd.97758.docket.html

Most of the defendants have moved to dismiss (one has not appeared).  The court was originally going to hear argument this week on the matter.  However, on May 6, Judge Michael Shea entered the following order:

ORDER. Oral argument is CANCELED. The Court believes that the pending motions turn on the issue whether the published statements were true at the time they were published, i.e., in 2010. As it appears from the parties' briefing that there is no genuine dispute that the statements were true in 2010, and as this issue is not one for which discovery will likely be beneficial, the Court will treat the pending motions as motions for summary judgment under Rule 12(d). By May 27, 2013, Defendants shall file copies of the relevant articles and other published statements to the docket, and Plaintiff shall file a notice indicating whether she believes that the contents of the articles were false at the time they were published, and, if so, the factual basis for her contention. Any party is free to submit by May 27, 2013 any other material that might be pertinent to the motions. Signed by Judge Michael P. Shea on 5/6/2013.

In effect, the Judge decided that the plaintiff's claim had little merit--it only mattered that the articles were true at the time of the arrest, not that subsequent expungement meant that the newspapers had to rewrite history.  

Connecticut authors should take care to stay abreast of their rights under the First Amendment and state defamation law.  Legal counsel should be consulted with at the first sign of trouble.  

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