Designer Skin LLC v. S & L Vitamins, Inc., et al.
William Sheehan III v. King County, et al.
No. C97-1360WD (W.D. Wash., July 17, 1998)
Plaintiff operated a website on which he criticized credit reporting agencies and debt collection services. The site also contained what the court characterized as "scurrilous expressions of opinion," which labeled various agents and employees of the entities plaintiff was attacking as "assholes" and "jerkoffs." In addition, plaintiff published the home addresses and telephone numbers of some of these individuals.
Defendant Experian Information Solutions Inc. ("Experian") claimed that these publications contained defamatory statements, and sought to enjoin plaintiff from continuing to publish them. The Court, notwithstanding its finding that plaintiff's speech was "offensive," denied defendant Experian's motion for injunctive relief.
Defendant was seeking a "prior restraint" on plaintiff's speech -- an order prohibiting plaintiff from continuing such speech before the Court had determined whether it was or was not defamatory or otherwise improper. Such restraints are presumed unconstitutional. Said the Court:
Because plaintiff's site did not incite or produce imminent lawless action, the Court held that defendant was not entitled to the injunction sought. "Plaintiff's verbal pyrotechnics have surely been offensive but ... [o]ffensive speech -- even if it 'stirs people to anger' -- is ordinarily protected."