Judge dismisses former LSU student's lawsuit against campus newspaper

LOUISIANA — A district court judge dismissed a libel lawsuitbrought against the Louisiana State University student newspaper for commentsposted on its Web site.

The lawsuit filed by former LSU student Patrick Esfeller claimed theDaily Reveille, its top editors and other employees of the Baton Rouge,La., university were responsible for the comments, but East Baton Rouge DistrictCourt Judge Todd Hernandez ruled Tuesday that Section 230 of the CommunicationsDecency Act protects the newspaper and its supervisors from liability forusers’ comments.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states that”interactive computer service providers” cannot be treated as thespeaker or publisher of information posted by users, and courts have held thatthis protection applies to newspapers’ online comment sections.

“The courts are bound to rule based upon precedent in law,”

Esfeller said about the decision in an e-mail. “It’s too bad they aren’tallowed to rule based on ethics.”

Esfeller said he now plans to file a lawsuit against the person or peoplewho made the comments — posted between February 2008 and January 2009 — by filing a lawsuit against “Doe,” which allows him to usethe discovery process to obtain IP addresses and other identifying information.

One comment was posted in January on a story nearly two years old. Theeffort it takes to find an archived story and make that comment shows the personis deliberately trying to harm his reputation, Esfeller said.

“I’m looking forward to finding out who made that particular commentabout me. I have a couple of ideas of who that person may be,” he said.”Regardless, I’ll find out and they will be held legally accountable …for their libelous statements that were made about me.”

The comments in question were posted in response to stories aboutEsfeller’s ongoing litigation against the university over disciplinarydecisions during the 2006-07 school year.

Reveille Editor-in-Chief Kyle Whitfield said it is a relief to bedone with the lawsuit, and he hopes the updated comments policy theReveille implemented earlier this year will prevent this kind ofsituation from happening again. The volume of comments following HurricaneKatrina forced editors to use automatic posting with a filter that caughtprofanity.

“As long as they passed the filter they went through, and obviouslythe filter doesn’t catch potentially libelous comments,” Whitfieldsaid.

Now an editor has to approve a comment before it will show up online.Whitfield said he understands where Esfeller is coming from and learned from theexperience.

“You get a tangible sense of how comments on our Web site can impactsomeone, and so I’ve taken that to heart surely,” he said.

For More Information:

  • Former LSU student sues newspaper, adviser, university for comments made on paper’s Web site News Flash, 3/27/2009

  • Judge dismisses several claims, but allows LSU student’s suit to continue News Flash, 7/1/2008
  • Student sues Louisiana State over harassment investigation News Flash, 2/6/2008
  • LSU student informed he could face disciplinary action for talking to student newspaper News Flash, 1/22/2007