Law School Case Brief
Trout Point Lodge, Ltd. v. Handshoe - 729 F.3d 481 (5th Cir. 2013)
The task of statutory interpretation begins and, if possible, ends with the language of the statute. When the language is plain, a court must enforce the statute's plain meaning, unless absurd. The preeminent canon of statutory interpretation requires the court to presume that the legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there. The court determines whether statutory language is plain or ambiguous by reference to the language itself, the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole.
Trout Point Lodge and its owners, Leary and Perret, filed suit in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia) on September 1, 2011, alleging defamation and related claims by a Mississippi-based blogger, Handshoe. The court awarded Trout Point Lodge $75,000 in general damages, and Leary and Perret each $100,000 in general damages, $50,000 in aggravated damages, and $25,000 in punitive damages. It also awarded $2,000 in costs. Trout Point then enrolled the Nova Scotia Judgment in the Circuit Court of Hancock County, Mississippi, in March 2012, in an attempt to collect its damages award. The district court entered summary judgment in Handshoe's favor, finding that Trout Point failed to meet its burden under the the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (SPEECH Act), 28 U.S.C.S. § 4102, to show that "Handshoe was afforded at least as much protection for freedom of speech in [the Nova Scotia] action as he would have in a domestic proceeding or, alternatively, that Handshoe would have been found liable for defamation by a domestic court." Trout Point Lodge and its owners timely appealed.
Is a Canadian defamation-based default judgment obtained against a Mississippi blogger enforceable under the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act?
The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the judgment was not enforceable under § 4102(a)(1)(A) of the SPEECH Act because Canadian law did not provide at least as much protection for freedom of speech and press as the blogger would have received under the First Amendment and Mississippi law. Canadian plaintiffs did not have to prove falsity as an element of a prima facie defamation claim. The judgment also was not enforceable under§ 4102(a)(1)(B) because a court applying Mississippi law would not have found the blogger liable for defamation and there were insufficient allegations of falsity to permit a default judgment under Mississippi law.
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