Down the Memory Hole?

From Martin v. Hearst Corp. (D. Conn. Aug. 5, 2013):

Plaintiff Lorraine Martin was arrested in 2010. At the time, local media outlets ran articles on news websites and in print accurately reporting that she was arrested [for possession of narcotics, drug paraphernalia, and marijuana -EV]. She now sues the owners of those media outlets, claiming that “on or after January 11, 2012” the articles detailing her arrest — which remained available online — became defamatory because, as of that date, Ms. Martin “was deemed never to have never been arrested” due to the dismissal of the criminal charges against her and the operation of the “deemer” provision of Connecticut’s erasure laws. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142a(e)(3) (“Any person who shall have been the subject of such an erasure shall be deemed to have never been arrested….”)….

The court concludes — correctly, I think — that the Connecticut statute doesn’t purport to have the “sweeping, history-altering design perceived by Ms. Martin” but instead is simply “meant to relieve those who qualified for erasure from the legal effect of an arrest ‘within the meaning of the general statutes’ and to permit such persons lawfully to deny the fact of the arrest in court and other official proceedings.” “[T]here is … not the slightest suggestion that [the legislature] sought to muzzle private persons who might have obtained arrest information (other than the specific reference to consumer reporting agencies — which do not figure in this case) or, for that matter, to change history.”

Moreover, the court also concludes (again, I think, correctly) that this interpretation helps save the statute from unconstitutionality. “If the ‘deemer’ provision of the erasure laws operated to allow defamation liability to be imposed on true and newsworthy statements, it would run afoul of the First Amendment.” And for all these reasons, “[t]he ‘deemer’ provision in subsection (e)(3) of the Erasure Statute does not alter the truth that an individual qualifying for erasure was arrested. What was true in 2010 remained true on January 11, 2012 and remains true today: Ms. Martin was arrested.” As a result, Martin’s defamation claim fails, together with her false light, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and appropriation of name claims.

For a similar case involving convictions, see this post from 2011. For an earlier post of mine about this case, back when it was filed in Connecticut state court, see this post.

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