The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman left unanswered significant questions as to what constitutes a republication when corrections or modifications are made to an online publication, thereby retriggering the statute of limitations for defamation. In a 4-3 opinion, the majority established a test for whether a correction or modification is a republication that increases the likelihood that trial courts will deny summary judgment motions, leaving the question of republication for the jury. The practical effect of this will likely be far fewer corrections to online publications for fear of reviving or extending the applicable statute of limitations. Specifically, the majority held that an online article is republished if an author makes a material and substantive change to the original defamatory article. According to the majority: A material change is one that relates to the defamatory content of the article at issue. It is not a technical website modification or the posting on the website of another article with no connection to the original defamatory article. A substantive change is one that alters the meaning of the original defamatory article or is essentially a new defamatory statement incorporated into the original article. It is not the mere reconfiguring of sentences or substitution of words that are not susceptible of...
Author: Lauren James-Weir
The Law Division in a to-be-published opinion in Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP v. New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety, Division of Law, recently held that public policy does not favor access to unfiled discovery in public sector litigation under New Jersey’s common-law right of access. Plaintiff filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs for failure to comply with the Open Public Records Act, (“OPRA”), and the common-law right of access in refusing to provide plaintiff with copies of unfiled transcripts of expert depositions in environmental litigation brought by the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”). Because the transcripts in their entirety had not been filed with the Court, NJDEP denied plaintiff’s OPRA request on privilege and confidentiality grounds.
New Jersey courts decided a trio of cases last month that shine a spotlight on the State’s Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”), which governs the disclosure of government records when requested by members of the public. These opinions — the holdings of which are summarized below — serve as important guideposts for practitioners litigating OPRA-related matters.
On July 25, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided McGovern v. Rutgers. The Court’s ruling — which found violations of Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq. (“OPMA”), but no statutory remedy — highlights the need for an amendment to OPMA providing effective remedies for violations of OPMA.
On May 21, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a corrected Opinion in W.J.A. v. D.A.. In that Opinion, the Court held that presumed damages continue to play a role in New Jersey’s defamation jurisprudence in private plaintiff cases that do not involve matters of public concern. Where a plaintiff does not proffer any evidence of actual damage to reputation, the doctrine of presumed damages permits him/her to survive a motion for summary judgment and to obtain nominal damages if successful at trial. The Court emphasized, however, that in order to receive compensatory damages, a plaintiff must prove actual harm to his/her reputation.
In Durando v. The Nutley Sun, the New Jersey Supreme Court confirmed that — absent clear and convincing evidence of actual malice — an admittedly incorrect “teaser headline” that refers readers to an accurate headline and story cannot be the basis of a defamation claim where a public figure or matter of public concern is at issue. By strictly adhering to this actual malice standard, the Court has reaffirmed the commitment of this State to protect speech regarding public figures and public matters, even erroneous speech, from the expense and chill of protracted litigation, by disposition of lawsuits at the summary judgment stage.
No Right of Access Under OPRA to Unfiled Discovery in NJDEP Litigation But Right of Access May Exist Under Common Law
Last month, in Drinker Biddle & Reath, L.L.P. v. New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Law, the Appellate Division held that un-filed discovery in an environmental lawsuit brought by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was not subject to access pursuant to New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”). But the Court also found that access to such information could be compelled under the common law, depending on whether the plaintiff’s need for disclosure outweighed the State’s need for confidentiality, and remanded the matter to the trial court to conduct the appropriate balancing test.