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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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  1. Falk said “At this point, at this minute, we’ll savor this particular victory.” “It certainly is a historic week on this front,” Cockrum said. “What a delight ... “Happy Independence Day to the women of the state of Indiana,” WOW. So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)

  2. congratulations on such balanced journalism; I also love how fetus disposal affects women's health protection, as covered by Roe...

  3. It truly sickens me every time a case is compared to mine. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld my convictions based on a finding of “hidden threats.” The term “hidden threat” never appeared until the opinion in Brewington so I had no way of knowing I was on trial for making hidden threats because Dearborn County Prosecutor F Aaron Negangard argued the First Amendment didn't protect lies. Negangard convened a grand jury to investigate me for making “over the top” and “unsubstantiated” statements about court officials, not hidden threats of violence. My indictments and convictions were so vague, the Indiana Court of Appeals made no mention of hidden threats when they upheld my convictions. Despite my public defender’s closing arguments stating he was unsure of exactly what conduct the prosecution deemed to be unlawful, Rush found that my lawyer’s trial strategy waived my right to the fundamental error of being tried for criminal defamation because my lawyer employed a strategy that attempted to take advantage of Negangard's unconstitutional criminal defamation prosecution against me. Rush’s opinion stated the prosecution argued two grounds for conviction one constitutional and one not, however the constitutional true threat “argument” consistently of only a blanket reading of subsection 1 of the intimidation statute during closing arguments, making it impossible to build any kind of defense. Of course intent was impossible for my attorney to argue because my attorney, Rush County Chief Public Defender Bryan Barrett refused to meet with me prior to trial. The record is littered with examples of where I made my concerns known to the trial judge that I didn’t know the charges against me, I did not have access to evidence, all while my public defender refused to meet with me. Special Judge Brian Hill, from Rush Superior Court, refused to address the issue with my public defender and marched me to trial without access to evidence or an understanding of the indictments against me. Just recently the Indiana Public Access Counselor found that four over four years Judge Hill has erroneously denied access to the grand jury audio from my case, the most likely reason being the transcription of the grand jury proceedings omitted portions of the official audio record. The bottom line is any intimidation case involves an action or statement that is debatably a threat of physical violence. There were no such statements in my case. The Indiana Supreme Court took partial statements I made over a period of 41 months and literally connected them with dots… to give the appearance that the statements were made within the same timeframe and then claimed a person similarly situated would find the statements intimidating while intentionally leaving out surrounding contextual factors. Even holding the similarly situated test was to be used in my case, the prosecution argued that the only intent of my public writings was to subject the “victims” to ridicule and hatred so a similarly situated jury instruction wouldn't even have applied in my case. Chief Justice Rush wrote the opinion while Rush continued to sit on a committee with one of the alleged victims in my trial and one of the judges in my divorce, just as she'd done for the previous 7+ years. All of this information, including the recent PAC opinion against the Dearborn Superior Court II can be found on my blog www.danbrewington.blogspot.com.

  4. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  5. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

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