The River Front Times reports today on a Missouri Appeals Court judgment, reversing a lower court decision registering an Ontario libel judgment. A pdf link to the Missouri Appeals Court decision is available here.
The parties are first cousins. The plaintiff/respondent, Ms. Sanchez-Pontigon and her husband, both Ontario residents, sued the defendant/appellant, Ms. Manalansand-Lord and her American publisher for libel arising from statements made in Ms. Manalansand-Lord’s self-published autobiography entitled, “From Fieldhand to Ph.D., Ms. Asia International Motivation for Success and Happiness”, the first chapter of which was posted on the Internet.
No one had appeared on behalf of the Defendants at trial, despite having been given notice by the trial coordinator through email and fax and by plaintiffs’ counsel via email. In reported reasons: Sanchez-Pontigon v. Manalansand-Lord 2009 CanLII 28216 (ON S.C.),  O.J. No. 2293 (S.C.J.), Quinlan, J. of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded Sanchez-Pontigon $25,000 in general damages and $12,500 as aggravated damages for defamation relating to accusations that the plaintiff was involved in criminal activity, including kidnapping and fraud. The Ontario court also awarded $13,716 in costs.
According to the Missouri Court of Appeals:
“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.”
Note the quotation marks around the word “judgment”.
Relying on the recently enacted SPEECH Act (see my recent post: UK Libel Reform and the US SPEECH Act: A View from Canada), the Missouri Appeals Court reversed, and the underlying registration was set aside and the garnishment quashed. The Missouri Appeals Court held that the Circuit Court failed to analyze whether the Ontario judgment met U.S. First Amendment standards of free speech and freedom of the press protection. The Missouri appeals court also refused to give the Ontario judgment “full faith and credit” on the grounds that:
This record does not contain a certified and authenticated copy of the Canadian “judgment” by the Canadian court and thus fails to comply with the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution. Art. IV § 1, U.S. Constitution. There is simply not enough here to show that this “judgment” is entitled to full faith and credit in a Missouri court. As such, the Circuit Court should not have proceeded to hearing, judgment and execution.
Consequently, the plaintiff was ordered to file a certified and authenticated Canadian judgment in accordance with Missouri procedural law and the Circuit Court’s decision was reversed and remanded for further hearing.
Does this decision portend a retreat from an era of judicial comity into a cross-border “war of the words”? Will Canadian judges take umbrage with their American counterparts refusing to enforce Canadian libel judgments unless they meet American First Amendment standards? Is this another example of American exceptionalism?