Doctor may appeal California supreme court ruling
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
November 20, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A lawyer for a Canadian doctor said
today his client is considering a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of
a California high court ruling barring his libel lawsuit against
an activist who posted another person's comment on the Internet.
Christopher Grell, an Oakland attorney representing physician
Terry Polevoy, said no decision has been made on whether to seek
U.S. Supreme Court review, but said, "We're looking at that
"We're weighing the pros and cons," said Grell, who
had argued that Polevoy had a right to sue to protect his good
But Mark Goldowitz, a lawyer for Ilena Rosenthal, the woman sued
by Polevoy, said of the California Supreme Court ruling, "It's
a very good opinion because it protects free speech on the Internet."
The state high court said people who use the Internet to post
information originating from another source can't be sued for
defamation in the posting.
The panel said unanimously that the federal Communications Decency
Act of 1996 protects Internet users as well as service providers
from being held liable for information republished from another
The ruling dismisses a defamation lawsuit in Alameda County Superior
Court filed by Polevoy and another doctor from Pennsylvania against
Ilena Rosenthal, a breast implant awareness activist.
Lower courts dismissed claims against the other doctor, but a
state appeals court said Polevoy could proceed with a claim that
Rosenthal defamed him by posting a comment in which a third person
accused him of stalking a Canadian radio producer. Rosenthal posted
the comment on two newsgroup Web sites.
Today's ruling overturns the appeals court.
The federal law says, "No provider or user of an interactive
computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker
of any information provided by another information content provider."
Justice Carol Corrigan wrote in the state Supreme Court decision,
"Congress has comprehensively immunized republication by
individual Internet users."
Corrigan said the law "serves to protect online freedom
of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended."
The court said that "recognizing broad immunity for defamatory
republications on the Internet has some troubling consequence,"
but said it would be up to Congress to make any changes.
Goldowitz said other courts in the nation have ruled that the
federal law protects Internet service providers such as Yahoo,
Google and America Online, but today's decision is the first time
a state high court has said the law protects individual Internet
users as well.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court
brief in the case, said, "Today's ruling affirms that blogs,
websites, listserves and Internet service providers like Yahoo
as well as individuals" are protected by the federal law.
Kurt Opsahl, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
which joined in the friends of-the-court brief, said the ruling
"reaffirms protections for free speech."
"It brings California back in line with all the other jurisdictions
that have ruled on the law," Opsahl said.
The federal communications law says, "No provider or user
of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher
or speaker of any information provided by another information
In contrast to the protections given to Internet providers and
users, newspaper and book publishers can be sued for defamatory
statements appearing in their print publications.
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