What is the Proper Venue for an Alleged Defamatory Facebook Post in Florida? (James Lowery III v. Shane McBee)

Defamation

A Martin County resident alleged posted a defamatory Facebook post which was read by a third party in neighboring Palm Beach County. Where is the proper venue?

According to James Cullen Lowery, III v. Shane McBee, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal held that “there was no
“injury” to Plaintiff until the allegedly defamatory Facebook post was published and accessed (received and read)” and therefore jurisdiction was proper in Palm Beach County.

In a(n) somewhat needlessly sprawling five page opinion, the Court concluded that the relevant statute posited that such a suit could be filed where property was located, where the defendant resided, or where the tort accrued. Here, there was no property at issue and the debate was limited to the Defendant’s location (Martin County) or where the incident accrued. The question was whether, for venue purposes, the alleged defamation occurred when the Facebook post was made (presumably in Martin County) or when it was received.

The Court discussed various decade+ old jurisdiction cases but ultimately concluded “the instant tort claim for libel accrued in the county where the libelous statement was published, as publication would be the last event necessary to make a defendant liable for a claim of libel or defamation, and a plaintiff does not suffer injury until a libelous statement is published.” In turn, the Court concluded that the last, injurious event was when it was received and read in Palm Beach County.

[As an aside, the opinion does not indicate the substance of the alleged Facebook post. According to the Complaint (search here), the plaintiff is/was dating the defendant’s former spouse and the defendant allegedly posted, “Got a stalker that likes little kids, wish he had the balls to step up. Take snaggle toes back to GA fat boy.” The post was allegedly accompanied by the plaintiff’s name and photo. Per the Complaint, the Facebook post accused the plaintiff of criminal conduct (i.e., being a stalker and inferring that the plaintiff is/was a pedophile). An Amended Complaint identified at least one alleged recipient of the post who resided in Palm Beach County.]

Image Credit: Nick Youngson Picpedia.org

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