After more than a year in the courts, the $6 million defamation lawsuit filed by Oceanside resident Denise Finkel against four of her former classmates and the social networking website Facebook was thrown out by a state Supreme Court judge on July 23.
The suit, originally filed in February 2009, claimed that Finkel's former high school friends created a private Facebook group, "90 cents short of a dollar," in which they mocked and defamed her.
Judge Randy Sue Marber dismissed the case because she concluded that it did not meet all the criteria of a defamation suit. Facebook had been excused as a defendant in the case a few months after it was filed because of a federal statute that says that a social host website is not liable for the statements made by its users.
"The court's decision was pretty focused on one of the many issues that need to be examined in defamation, and that had to do with the believability of the alleged defamatory statements," said Joshua Ketover, attorney for the Herz family, defendants in the case. "The law actually requires that any statement, if it's to be considered defamation, has to be more than mere hyperbole.”
Finkel’s suit charged that in the Facebook group, her friends — all former Oceanside High School students — said that she used drugs, contracted AIDS and committed acts of bestiality, among other things. According to Ketover, the judge decided that the statements made — while distasteful and mean — were too unbelievable to be considered cause for a defamation suit.
"We really feel that the judge had a lot of latitude in deciding this case, and we feel that some of the elements of her judgment were definitely misguided when it came to the interpretation of the defamation law," said Linda Finkel, Denise's mother. "What the defendants did definitely met the parameters of defamation per se, and we continue to feel that way.
"And the judge really could have sent a message if she decided in Denise's favor," Linda Finkel added. "These kinds of cases are very disturbing, and we feel that Denise really did deserve a day in court to prove the damages that resulted from their actions."