First (?) Court Decision Applying Federal Anti-Libel-Tourism SPEECH Act

The case is Pontigon v. Lord (Mo. Ct. App. Apr. 19, 2011). The factual background:

The appellant, Ms. Lord, is an American citizen, resident of St. Charles County, Missouri, who was born in the Philippines. The respondent, Leodegaria Sanchez, is Ms. Lord’s cousin, and a resident of Ontario, Canada, who was likewise born in the Philippines. The basis of the complaint before the Canadian Court was Ms. Lord’s self-published life story told in From Fieldhand to Ph.D., Ms. Asia International (Fieldhand). One of the incidents set out in “Fieldhand” is an incident which is the subject of ongoing litigation to set aside a deed for fraud in the Philippines by Ms. Lord and her sister against Ms. Sanchez. Although unclear as to how it occurred, “Fieldhand” was put on the internet and downloaded in Ontario, Canada by Ms. Sanchez.

Ms. Sanchez filed a petition in Canada for defamation in regard to the fraud claim in the Philippines. The record reflects that Ms. Lord received service of process of the suit by email and a fax from Ms. Sanchez’s lawyer. Ms. Lord did not make a personal appearance in Canada, and a judgment for thirty-seven thousand five hundred dollars ($37,500) together with pre-judgment interest and costs of thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixteen dollars and forty six cents ($13,716.46) was entered. This “judgment” was filed in St. Charles County, Missouri — Ms. Lord was given notice — and after hearing the Circuit Court granted the registration, from which a garnishment issued. Our review of the record — a review of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — a review of Title 28 §§ 4101-4105 — and a review of § 511.760 and § 511.770 — 511.785 RSMo, compel the cause to be reversed, the underlying registration set aside and the garnishment quashed.

The court points to the SPEECH Act (Title 28 §§ 4101-4105), which among other things provides that “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of Federal or State law, a domestic court shall not recognize or enforce a foreign judgment for defamation unless the domestic court determines that”:

(A) the defamation law applied in the foreign court’s adjudication provided at least as much protection for freedom of speech and press in that case as would be provided by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and by the constitution and law of the State in which the domestic court is located; or

(B) even if the defamation law applied in the foreign court’s adjudication did not provide as much protection for freedom of speech and press as the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the constitution and law of the State, the party opposing recognition or enforcement of that foreign judgment would have been found liable for defamation by a domestic court applying the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the constitution and law of the State in which the domestic court is located.

The court also points to Missouri statutes that limit enforceability of foreign judgments in other ways as well. And the court concludes that, because the lower court failed to consider the federal SPEECH Act, and failed to properly apply the state laws. It therefore reverses the lower court decision, and remands to the lower court to apply the proper law.