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Former JA boss loses defamation appeal naming FedEx, 500 Festival

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The former head of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana failed Thursday in his bid to reinstate defamation claims against a business and a nonprofit that owned computers from which critical comments about him were posted online.

Jeffrey M. Miller sued multiple defendants who posted comments on various Indianapolis media websites in 2010. Miller claims he was defamed by online commenters who criticized his leadership of JA, which he ran from 1994 until 2008.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele properly granted summary judgment in favor of Federal Express Corp. and 500 Festival Inc.

Those organizations owned computers from which comments alleging misuse of funds and possible criminal acts were posted to a story about JA on the Indianapolis Business Journal website. Keele concluded that Miller had no claim against FedEx or 500 Festival for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the appeals panel affirmed the ruling.

In Jeffrey M. Miller and Cynthia S. Miller v. Federal Express Corporation and 500 Festival, Inc., 49A02-1307-PL-619, the panel ruled “the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of 500 Festival and FedEx, finding each to be sued in their capacity as a publisher of the information at issue and concluding that, as such, these defendants were immune from the Millers’ claims under Section 230(c) of the federal Communications Decency Act because these defendants are providers of an interactive computer service.”

The ruling does not bar claims against those who wrote the comments, who are considered “publishers” under the act. Only one commenter is identified in the order – 500 Festival Vice President of Corporate Sponsorship Dave Wilson. Miller was able to trace the comments through IP addresses to 500 Festival and FedEx computers, but he was unable to determine who at FedEx posted two of the comments that form part of the basis of his suit.

Miller also contended FedEx and 500 Festival inadequately responded to his efforts to determine who posted the comments.

"Although there may have remained a genuine issue of material fact concerning spoliation of evidence under state law, the trial court properly granted summary judgment," Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel. He wrote, “these issues are mooted by the fact that both FedEx and 500 Festival are immune from the claims brought by the Millers."

Miller previously won an appellate victory that the Indiana Supreme Court declined to review ordering The Indianapolis Star to identify anonymous commenters who Miller sought to name in a defamation action.

Indianapolis Business Journal is a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer.

 
 
 

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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