7th Circuit divided over injunction in defamation case

December 18, 2015

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday found an injunction issued in a case involving religious artifacts and defamation claims was entirely too broad and threatened to silence the defendants completely. But the judges were split over whether the district court should be able to modify the injunction.

Kevin McCarthy and Albert Langsenkamp sued Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman after a falling out between McCarthy, Langsenkamp and Fuller in a business deal. Fuller, who used to be a religious sister, (an issue previously addressed by the 7th Circuit) owned property given to her by another nun regarding Our Lady of America. McCarthy and Langsenkamp helped to spread the word about the Virgin Mary’s appearance in Rome City, Indiana, in the 1950s, and in gratitude, Fuller gave them a statute and other artifacts of Our Lady.

After the falling out, Hartman, a retired postal inspector, came to Fuller’s aid by launching a campaign to smear McCarthy and Langsenkamp’s reputations, including through writing on a blog. The two sides ended up suing each other on numerous claims, including copyright infringement and defamation.

The jury ruled in favor of plaintiffs McCarthy and Langsenkamp, and at issue in Friday’s decision is the defamation ruling and injunction issued by Judge William T. Lawrence. Although the jury was not specific about what it found to be defamatory statements, Lawrence outlined what the defendants could not say, and included in the injunction “as well as any similar statements that contain the same sorts of allegations or inferences, in any manner or forum.”

The permanent injunction ordered Hartman to take down his blog.

The 7th Circuit reversed, finding since the jury wasn’t asked to identify which of the nine possible statements were false and defamatory, it has no findings to support the specificity requirement for a proper injunction; the enjoined statements do not even correspond to the statements the plaintiffs claimed were defamatory; and the injunction is vague and overbroad.

Judges Richard Posner and Ann Claire Williams sent the case back to the Lawrence to decide whether to issue a new injunction, and if he does, to keep in mind the criticisms of the 7th Circuit in Kevin B. McCarthy, et al. and Langsenkamp Family Apostolate, et al. v. Patricia Ann Fuller, et al.,14-3308, 15-1839.

Judge Diane Sykes voted to not even allow Lawrence to have an opportunity to correct the errors. He should simply issue an amended judgment without the flawed injunction.


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