Politics

No Libel or Emotional Distress Discovery for Being Called a “Nazi”

From Magistrate Judge Robert Norway’s report and recommendation in Frank v. Fine (M.D. Fla. Jan. 5), adopted by Judge Paul Byron on Jan. 19:

Plaintiff [Colby Alexander Frank] {a self-proclaimed “white civil rights advocate” and member of the “Goyim Defense League”} here alleges that Defendant [Randy Fine, a Florida legislator] defamed him by publishing certain statements on a social media platform. Those statements include:

“I just got jumped by a Nazi with a camera walking into a widely publicized speaking event just now. I’m fine; not sure today will go down as one of his better days.” “Clearly, he couldn’t take it one on one, because as I left, four of his friends were hooting and hollering on the street corner. I got pictures, though being the cowards they are, most were masked.” “Here’s a pic of the Nazi who jumped me.” “Here’s the Nazi’s background! Already being prosecuted for one violent felony. Such losers. Mom must not have hugged him enough.” “The Nazis have released a two second clip from my ambush earlier this week, thinking it makes them look good. I don’t think I’ve ever sounded more eloquent.”

… [These statements cannot form the basis for a libel lawsuit] because they are opinions. Statements indicating a political opponent is a Nazi or coward are “odious and repugnant” and far too common in today’s political discourse. But they are not actionable defamation “because of the tremendous imprecision of the meaning and usage of such terms in the realm of political debate.” In other words, being called a Nazi or coward are not verifiable statements of fact that would support a defamation claim….

Plaintiff alleges Defendant’s statements constitute threats [and are therefore actionable as intentional infliction of emotional distress] and that Defendant “has a long history of conspiring with other political agents … against protected free speech activities as well as abusing his position as a legislative representative.” Plaintiff states that he “now has genuine fear for his safety” because Defendant has called Plaintiff’s protected speech, among other things, “hate litter.” …

Florida courts are “reluctant to find claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress based solely on allegations of verbal abuse.” Indeed, Florida courts have found no liability when a defendant called a member of the clergy “Satan,” and claimed that the clergyman had purchased a luxury vehicle using stolen funds. Other Florida courts have found no liability where the speaker made “vicious verbal attacks” that included the use of humiliating language and racial epithets. Another Florida court found no liability when the deputy director of a port wrote an “ode” about a candidate for port commissioner, including the references “hooker” and “bimbo.”

The statements alleged in Amended Complaint are no more outrageous than the statements from these prior cases. That a self-proclaimed “white civil rights advocate” and member of the “Goyim Defense League” was called a Nazi is no more offensive than referring to a clergyman as Satan in front of his flock, subjecting someone to vicious and humiliating racial epithets, or calling a candidate for public office a bimbo or hooker. Like those statements, the ones here are not so outrageous that they support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Florida.

To be sure, Defendant’s social media statements are unflattering, untoward, and base. Some may even say that such statements are beneath the dignity of someone who holds a political office. But insults, indignities, unflattering opinions, and similar rough language do not sustain a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Florida….

The court dismissed the case on its own initiative; plaintiff hadn’t served defendant, nor paid the required filing fee, so defendant hadn’t yet appeared. For cases applying a similar rule as to allegations of racism, Communism, and the like, see here. The general rule is indeed that simply calling someone a “Nazi” is just seen as an expression of opinion (the person is evil, or morally tantamount to a Nazi), though specific allegations that a person is, say, a member of a Nazi party or committed some crime stemming from his Nazi ideology might indeed be actionable (if false).

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