Fla. Court Sides With Blogger Against Miami Heat Owner, Lifts Injunction

A Florida appellate court has lifted an order prohibiting a blogger from making defamatory posts about entrepreneur Raanan Katz, minority owner of the Miami Heat.

The appeals judges said in their ruling that the ban violated the blogger's free-speech rights. “Injunctive relief is not available to prohibit the making of defamatory or libelous statements,” Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal said in its decision, issued this week. “A temporary injunction directed to speech is a classic example of prior restraint on speech triggering First Amendment concerns.”

The ruling vacates a prelminary injunction issued in 2012 by Ellen Leesfield, a state court judge in Miami-Dade County. She banned Irina Chevaldina, a former tenant of Katz's, from "directly or indirectly publishing any blogs ... calculated to defame” the businessman.

Leesfield issued that ruling -- considered a prior restraint on speech-- before holding a trial about whether any of the blog posts actually were defamatory. Legal experts told Online Media Daily at the time that such prior restraints are almost always unconstitutional.

The court battle grew out of a dispute between Katz -- owner of the real estate development company R.K. Associates -- and the author of the blog located at Rkassociatesusa.blogspot.com, which criticizes Katz as a landlord.

Katz sued the blog authors in state court in Florida for defamation. Although the appellate court vacated the injunction against Chevaldina, the judges also said in the opinion that not all bans on potentially libelous speech are unconstitutional. One exception is if the speech furthers another “intentional tort,” such as interference with business relations. In this case, the appellate panel concluded that blogger's comments did not fall into that category.

“The record before us fails to support an inference that Ms. Chevaldina’s blogs are having a deleterious effect upon prospective tenants,” the judges wrote.

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