TOO MUCH MEDIA, LLC, JOHN ALBRIGHT, AND CHARLES BERREBBI, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS, v. SHELLEE HALE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
A-7 September Term 2010
SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY
206 N.J. 209; 20 A.3d 364; 2011 N.J. LEXIS 629; 39 Media L. Rep. 1849
February 8, 2011, Argued
June 7, 2011, Decided
PRIOR HISTORY: [***1]
On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Divi-sion, whose opinion is reported at 413 N.J. Super. 135, 993 A.2d 845 (2010).
Too Much Media, LLC v. Hale, 413 N.J. Super. 135, 993 A.2d 845, 2010 N.J. Super. LEXIS 62 (App.Div., 2010)
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
Too Much Media, LLC, et al. v. Shellee Hale (A-7-10)(066074)
Argued February 8, 2011 -- Decided June 7, 2011
RABNER, C.J., writing for a unanimous Court.
In this defamation claim by Too Much Media, LLC, and its principals (collectively, "TMM") against Shellee Hale, the Court considers whether the newsperson's privilege extends to a self-described journalist who posted comments on an Internet message board.
After defendant Hale was exposed through her com-puter to "cyber flashers" using web cameras, she looked into how technology was used to abuse women and de-cided to investigate the online adult entertainment indus-try. Hale claims that she spoke with government offi-cials, attended industry trade shows, interviewed people, and collected information from porn web blogs. In 2007, Hale [***2] created a website called Pornafia, which was intended to be an online news magazine and bulletin board for the public to exchange information about criminal activity within the adult entertainment industry. Pornafia was never fully launched, however. Instead, Hale posted comments on other sites' message boards. One of the message boards, Oprano, provided an online platform for people to post unfiltered comments relating to the industry. Most of the content of Oprano was open to anyone with Internet access.
Plaintiff TMM manufactures software known as NATS, which adult entertainment websites use to keep track of access to affiliated websites and determine what commissions are due the referring sites. In late 2007, Hale's investigation focused on reports of a security breach of the NATS database, which potentially exposed personal information of customers who believed they had signed up anonymously for pornographic websites. Hale claims she conducted a detailed probe of the breach, in-cluding talking with sources on a confidential basis. She posted multiple entries on Oprano's message board sug-gesting that TMM had violated New Jersey law, had profited from the breach, and its principals [***3] had threatened people who questioned their conduct, includ-ing one of her confidential sources.
TMM filed a complaint against Hale alleging defa-mation and false light. TMM sought to depose Hale dur-ing discovery. Hale moved for a protective order, assert-ing that she was a reporter entitled to the protections of New Jersey's Shield Law, N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-21 to -21.8--a statute that allows news reporters to protect the confiden-tiality of sources and news or information gathered dur-ing the course of their work. The trial court ordered an evidentiary hearing to resolve the parties' dispute over the issue. After considering her testimony, the trial court concluded that Hale did not qualify for protection under the Shield Law...