No Preliminary Injunctions Against Libel

Start at Belmondo v. AmisialThe Florida Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the petition Wednesday, with Judge Alexander Bokor as an author, and Justices Monica Gordo and Bronwyn Miller joining him.

Notwithstanding a related civil action pending in circuit court between the parties and an action pending in circuit court, family division, … Dr. Amisial filed a motion seeking emergency temporary injunctive relief to restrain appellant, [Ms.]Belmondo from spreading and repeating the allegedly offensive statements. Following an evidentiary hearing, a temporary injunctive order was entered by the trial court in favour of Dr. Amisial, and against Belmondo. Belmondo promptly appealed.

Belmondo is correct to note that Florida’s courts are long in agreement that no temporary injunction can be granted for the prohibition of making defamatory and libelous remarks. Vrasic v. Leibel (Fla. Ct. App. 2013). An action for damages is the only remedy for defamatory remarks. A limited exception exists where “the defamatory words were made in the furtherance of the commission of another tort … [and] … where the party demonstrates a special harm.” A review of this case’s record (including the transcript from the hearing before the trial judge) reveals that there is no finding of any special harm. There are also no grounds for such a finding. The record is best described as an affidavit that contains a conclusion regarding the effect of statements. The complaint’s fundamental flaw, in which there is no other tort that could lead to special damages, means the record contains an affidavit with a conclusory statement regarding the impact of the statements. However, special damages cannot be granted based on the conclusory allegation.

The injunction upon review, therefore, is an impermissible prior restriction on speech unless there’s a separate tort and a finding a special injury supported by substantial, competent evidence. Therefore, we reverse the decision and remand to reverse the order and deny the temporary injunction.

{We also note that the appeal raises other, significant issues besides the prior restraint without an appropriate exception….. Here, … the record contains no affirmative statement, under oath, by the party seeking the injunction that the claimed statements were false or that actual damages resulted from the defamatory comments. We decline to review the procedural or due process issues raised because we dispose of the matter on other grounds.}

Florida courts, like those in many other states, allow permanent injunctions that forbid the repetition of statements found to be defamatory at trial—but not pretrial preliminary injunctions against statements that the judge merely found to be likely to be libelous.