Thursday, August 03, 2006

1st Circuit vacates $1M libel verdict

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a $1 million award to a former Maryland assistant state's attorney who claimed he was libeled by The Boston Phoenix newspaper. In Mandel v. The Boston Phoenix, the ciruit court held that the trial court had insufficient evidence when it ruled before trial that the plaintiff was not a public figure.
"We ... vacate the judgment due to the court's premature pretrial decision on the linchpin public-official issue. Summary judgment is proper only when it is appropriately timed — and, given the lack of factual development in the summary judgment record, the timing here was inauspicious."
The 1st Circuit sent the case back to the district court for a new trial.

The case grew out of a 2003 Phoenix report on child-custody disputes involving accusations of child abuse. It included a report on a Maryland custody battle in which Mandel's former wife accused him of being a child molester. On summary judgment, the district court ruled that Mandel was not a public figure. The case went to trial and the jury awarded Mandel $950,000.

[Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.]

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