Collecting a Libel Tourist's Defamation Judgment?

By Rendleman, Doug | Washington and Lee Law Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Collecting a Libel Tourist's Defamation Judgment?


Rendleman, Doug, Washington and Lee Law Review


Professor Helene Heronn, who teaches at Stonebridge University in Virginia, wrote a book exposing Saudi cleric Bin Badden as a promoter and financier of international terrorism. Heronn' s book was published to widespread international acclaim. A less delighted Bin Badden became a "libel tourist," and sued Heronn for libel in the United Kingdom. Bin Badden based U.K.Jurisdiction over Heronn on two "contacts": a copy of Heronn's book that Bin Badden's London lawyer bought from Amazing.com plus Internet reviews and advertisements accessible in the United Kingdom. Although she stands by the integrity of her research and conclusions, Heronn took her lawyer's advice to default Bin Badden's U.K. lawsuit because English libel law is loaded against the defendant. A U.K. default judgment for £10,000 was entered against Heronn. Bin Badden has filed his U.K. judgment for recognition and collection in Stonebridge, Virginia court, seeking to collect it from Heronn's home and her bank account. ' Bin Badden' s Virginia filing raises the procedure and conflicts of laws issues discussed below.

A plaintiff who files a defamation lawsuit against a U.S. defendant in a forum with plaintiff-favoring defamation doctrines, here Bin Badden in the United Kingdom, has been called a "libel tourist."2 A libel tourist is a specialized forum shopper. Both libel tourist and forum shopper are opprobrious epithets an opponent may use to discredit her opponent's litigation tactics. However, a lawyer has a duty to his client to secure the most favorable result possible, which includes finding the most beneficial substantive law in the most hospitable forum.

A libel tourist is a forum shopper with two scarce attributes. First, a forum-shopping plaintiff usually prefers to sue his defendant in the United States because of its courts' discovery, jury trials, and generous damages. But a libel tourist is a forum shopper who shuns the United States.3 Second, a forumshopping plaintiffs usual approach is to consider ultimate collection of his judgment when selecting a forum.4 But a libel tourist who sues an American defendant in the United Kingdom is picking a forum whose judgment probably will not be recognized and collected in the United States,5 as we will see below.

In addition to defending Bin Badden's collection action in Stonebridge court, Heronn has or had another tactical technique. Heronn could sue Bin Badden in Virginia, the United States, before he brings his U.K. judgment to Heronn' s home court. A declaratory judgment allows a potential or actual defendant to become a plaintiff and take the offensive in another forum. Heronn could seek a U.S. declaratory judgment that Bin Badden's U.K. libel judgment would violate the U.S. Constitution and public policy.6 Based on the declaratory judgment, the court could grant Heronn an anti-suit injunction that forbids Bin Badden from pursuing his U.K. libel action or collecting his U.K. judgment in Virginia.

Herron' s possible Virginia declaratory judgment and anti-suit injunction raise issues of obtaining jurisdiction over Bin Badden. United States in personam jurisdiction over Bin Badden based on his U.K. lawsuit against Heronn may fail because defendant's lack of contact with Virginia, the forum state.7 In Rachel Ehrenfeld' s New York declaratory judgment action, the New York court held that her "libel-tourist" defendant was beyond the reach of the New York jurisdiction statute.8 The New York court distinguished the federal court's decision in Yahoo! Inc. v. La Ligue Contre Le Racisme Et L'Antisemitisme9 as based on the broader California statute.10

In that Yahoo! decision, California-based Yahoo! sued French plaintiffs in California federal court.11 Yahoo! sought a declaratory judgment that U.S. recognition of a French court's order forbidding advertisement of Nazi paraphernalia on Yahoo! ' s auction site would be improper. ' 2 Yahoo! ' s lawsuit eventually was dismissed.13 The Court of Appeals's fractured eleven-judge en banc decision turned Yahoo! …

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