Defamation lawsuit filed against Brattleboro Reformer dismissed


BRATTLEBORO >> A defamation lawsuit against the Reformer that was filed by a New York man was recently dismissed by the United States District Court for the Northern District Of New York.

Robert Brewer had also filed suit against the Rutland Herald and four employees of the search engine Google. Two troopers with the Vermont State Police, his ex-wife and his son, and an Alabama circuit court judge were also named in the lawsuit. All claims were dismissed by the court.

On April 8, 2013, Brewer, then 64, was stopped by the Vermont State Police on Interstate 91 in Brattleboro. During the traffic stop, troopers found him in possession of a handgun. The press release that was issued following the traffic stop stated Brewer had a prior conviction for domestic assault, which, under federal law, prohibits him from possessing a firearm.

"Brewer alleges that the Brattleboro Reformer ... defamed him ... by reporting allegedly false and defamatory statements contained in an official Vermont State Police Press Release concerning Brewer's traffic stop and citation," wrote Robert Penchina, of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.

Brewer sued the Herald for the same reason and sued the Google employees for "libel, deceptive business practices, computer fraud, non-consensual appropriation and involuntary servitude."

Penchina, the Reformer's attorney, asked the court to dismiss the suit last October because the newspaper did nothing more than publish "a true and fair report of an official police action (that) falls squarely within the absolute privilege afforded under New York Civil Rights Law."

In their response to Brewer's complaint, attorneys for Google noted "Brewer apparently is unhappy with the results that are returned when he searches for his name on Google's search engine. Based on those results, he asserts claims of libel, deceptive business practices, computer fraud, 'nonconsentual (sic) appropriation,' and involuntary servitude against four individual employees at Google whose only alleged involvement is supposed oversight of certain Google product lines."

"The facts are bizarre and disjointed," wrote Judge Gary L. Sharpe. "Brewer takes exception to several assertions in the press release and news articles. Primarily, he is disenchanted with the fact that a prior conviction stemming from (a prior) incident ... which he successfully appealed, is relied upon to suggest that he is a convicted felon and was not allowed to possess a firearm."

As argued by the Herald and the Reformer, noted Sharpe, Brewer's contentions that he was defamed and libeled do not hold up against New York Civil Rights Law because the printed reports did not contain false and injurious statements.

"A review of the official press release from Brewer's Vermont arrest, and the publications at issue from each newspaper ... plainly reveal that Civil Rights Law shields Rutland Herald and Brattleboro Reformer from liability," wrote Sharpe. "Indeed the content of the publications is no more than a parroting of the press release, and therefore is a 'fair and true report' of the official press release."

Brewer's claims against the Google employees hinged on his contention that they conducted their business in New York, but Sharpe concluded Brewer's allegations were "incompetent and there is a total failure by Brewer to show how the claims asserted against them arise from those purported transactions of business."

Brewer also sued the Reformer, the Herald and the Google employees for what he called deceptive business practices, alleging the newspapers had violated York General Business Law for failing to disclose certain facts to their readers.

"The articles published by both Rutland Herald and Brattleboro Reformer ... are plainly noncommerical speech and as such are not subject to General Business Law ... Accordingly, this claim is dismissed ..."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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