KPA joins strong group in 6th Circuit amicus brief

The Kentucky Press Association added its name Monday to an amicus brief for a case before the 6th Circuit Court.

The amicus is being coordinated by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP).

RCFP plans to file the amicus in Kent v. Hennelly, a case before the 6th Circuit about personal jurisdiction in a defamation action concerning online speech. 

Martin Kent sued Kevin Hennelly for defamation and false light invasion of privacy in the Eastern District of Tennessee based on statements Hennelly made in two Facebook posts and one comment on an online news article. Hennelly is a South Carolina resident. Kent lives in Tennessee and is the former chief of staff to former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.  Kent is the president of a Virginia corporation that had applied to a South Carolina county to have a golf course it owned rezoned as part of a plan to redevelop the property. Kent claims Hennelly defamed him based on two comments on Hennelly’s Facebook page and one comment on the website of the South Carolina-based Island Packet about the rezoning application that referred to Kent as corrupt and a crook, and linked him to the scandals involving former-Governor McDonnell and his wife.

Hennelly moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted the motion <>, holding that the complaint does not allege minimum contacts by Hennelly in Tennessee.  The district court rejected Kent’s argument that Hennelly had purposefully availed himself of the privilege of acting in Tennessee or causing a consequence in Tennessee by directing his “libel” toward a Tennessee resident and publishing it to his Facebook account, which is available in Tennessee.

The district court instead concluded that Hennelly had directed his comments to citizens and government officials in South Carolina responsible for making the decision regarding rezoning the golf course.

Kent has appealed to the 6th Circuit.  Kent has filed his opening brief <>, and Hennelly has filed his response brief.<>

The amicus brief argues that Supreme Court precedent does not support Kent’s argument (explaining why Kent’s reliance on Keeton v. Hustler Magazine and Calder v. Jones is misplaced), and that the Court should adopt the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning in Young v. Advocate, which has been adopted by other circuits, to hold that the fact that online speech can be accessed in the forum state does not by itself demonstrate that a defendant intentionally directed their speech to the forum state.  Finally, the amicus brief argues that Kent’s theory of personal jurisdiction, if adopted, will chill news organizations from speaking online, especially about national events or out-of-state individuals.

The list of media companies supporting the amicus is impressive. It includes:

American Society of News Editors

Associated Press Media Editors

Association of Alternative Newsmedia

Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC

Cox Media Group, Inc.

Digital First Media

The E.W. Scripps Company

First Look Media Works, Inc.

International Documentary Assn.

Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University

Kentucky Press Association

The McClatchy Company

The Media Institute

Media Law Resource Center

Meredith Corp. – Local Media Group

Michigan Press Association

MPA – The Association of Magazine Media

National Newspaper Association

National Press Photographers Association

The New York Times Company

News Media Alliance

Oath Inc.

Ohio News Media Association

Online News Association


Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting

Society of Professional Journalists

Tennessee Association of Broadcasters

Tennessee Press Association

Tribune Publishing Company

Tully Center for Free Speech

Vox Media, Inc.

The Washington Post

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