Florida Supreme Court, October 23, 2008

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The Florida Supreme Court held that the state no longer recognizes a cause of action for false light invasion of privacy because it overlaps with defamation and “allows the plaintiff to circumvent the strict requirements that have been adopted by statute and developed by case law to ensure the right to freedom of expression.” The court also addressed the standard used to determine if a communication is defamatory and held that a communication can be defamatory if it prejudices the plaintiff in the eyes of a “substantial and respectable minority of the community.”

The Florida Supreme Court’s holding arose in a case filed by Edith Rapp against Jews for Jesus, Inc., for false light invasion of privacy and defamation, after her stepson, who is a member of Jews for Jesus, wrote in a newsletter posted on the organization’s website that his stepmother, who is Jewish, had become a believer in Jesus.

The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The appeals court affirmed dismissal of the defamation claim, stating that Florida had not adopted the “substantial and respectable minority” standard in defamation cases; instead, the appeals court applied the more strict standard that requires a plaintiff to show that a common mind reading the statement would find the plaintiff to be an object of “hatred, distrust, ridicule, contempt or disgrace.”

The appeals court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the false light invasion of privacy claim, but certified the question of whether the state recognizes such a claim to the Florida Supreme Court.

After holding that the state does not recognize false light invasion of privacy claims, the Florida Supreme Court remanded the defamation claim back to the appeals court to apply the new “substantial and respectable minority” standard.