Free Speech Victory in Minnesota

On August 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the district court verdict in Moore v. Hoff. This was a strange case but ultimately the question turned on whether the First Amendment protects true statements that cause someone to be fired. We won at trial on the issue of defamation, but the jury returned a verdict that essentially said that what Mr. Hoff wrote on his blog was true, but it interfered with Jerry Moore’s employment contract.

Tortious interference is the tort that involves interfering with someone else’s contract. But to be “tortious,” it the interference has to be wrongful. We successfully argued that no matter what the result, telling the truth about a public figure is protected speech and therefore it can’t be “tortious.” The Court of Appeals agreed with us that the jury’s tortious verdict violated existing tortious interference case law and the First Amendment.

This was a big first for me in several respects. It was my first jury trial, my first appeal, and my first case that attracted any media attention. Most trademark, copyright, or business matters don’t attract attention and don’t go to trial. I also took the case just a few weeks before trial. The appeal would not have been successful without the support and help of others, especially my co-counsel Mark Anfinson and counsel for the amicus parties, John Borger. Both of them had substantially more First Amendment experience and I needed every bit of help I could get.

The opinion is here.
The post that started it all is still online at The Adventures of Johnny Northside.

UPDATE: The case now has a reporter number and can be cited as Moore v. Hoff, 821 N.W.2d 591 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).