By David Heim, Bochetto & Lentz Partner

B&L is always looking for new legal developments to advance its client cases. Recently, the Superior Court handed down a decision in Oberholzer v. Galapo which helped clarify the law governing injunctions of defamation and free speech rights.  The case is an important one to many B&L online defamation clients as it involved the extent a court can enter injunctive relief against defamation and invasion of privacy.

The Oberholzer case arose out of a neighbor dispute between two neighbors — the Oberholzer and Galapos — whose backyards were adjacent to each other. What started out as a dispute concerning a noisy landscaping project and property lines devolved into heated arguments where Oberholzer, allegedly, screamed a racial slur directed at Galapo. In retaliation, the Galapos decided to erect approximately 23 lawn signs of various sizes in their backyard, all facing the backyard of Oberholzer.  The signs — containing various anti-racial slogans, such as “No Place 4 Racism,” “Hitler Eichmann Racists,” “Racism = Ignorant” — were positioned so that they were constantly visible in the Oberholzer’s backyard.

The Oberholzers brought suit for defamation, seeking damages and an injunction. Obtaining an injunction is a difficult task because in most instances injunctions will not issue to enjoin a libel as it would be a “prior restraint” on free speech. But the trial court ultimately awarded a permanent injunction, but narrowly tailored it by allowing the Galapos to keep their signs up so long as the signs were not facing the Oberholzer’s yard so that the signs did not violate their rights to be left alone in their home residence.

On appeal, among other issues, the Galapos argued that the Trial Court erred by entering what was effectively a “prior restraint” on speech in violation of their right to free speech.  The Superior Court disagreed, noting the injunction was not an illegal “prior restraint” because it did not enjoin future speech, but “[r]ather, it addresses the existing signs, i.e., preexisting, and not future, communications.”

This distinction is one that B&L has already been making on behalf of many clients seeking a court order or injunction compelling the removal of defamatory material; that is, we have argued to trial courts that it is completely appropriate and not an illegal prior restraint for a court to order the removal of existing defamatory material from the internet, as opposed to an order barring future communications. We now have a precedential decision from the Superior Court in Oberholzer v. Galapo that supports this argument and should be very effective moving forward in removing defamatory material by way of a Court Order. The decision in Oberholzer v. Galapo can be accessed HERE.

The B&L team is always trying to stay up to date with decisions like these because we know they can dramatically impact our work. You need knowledgeable legal advice when you seek out an attorney, so contact out team today if you need counsel.