“California Supreme Court Holds The First Amendment Does Not Forbid The Issuance Of A Permanent Injunction In Defamation Cases That Prohibit A Person From Speaking”

In a recent decision, Balboa Island Village Inn, Inc. v. Lemen, 57 Cal. Rptr. 3d 320 (2007), the California Supreme Court ruled that it is permissible to permanently enjoin a person from repeating statements that were determined at trial to be defamatory.

The case arose after Lemen, a neighbor of the Village Inn restaurant, made public allegations to third persons that the Village Inn distributed illegal drugs, sold alcohol to minors, made sex videos on the premises, participated in prostitution, was involved in child pornography, had Mafia connections, and served tainted food.

The Village Inn filed a defamation and nuisance suit against Lemen and sought injunctive relief against her. At trial, Lemen was found to have repeatedly defamed the Village Inn. In entering judgment for the plaintiff, the trial court issued a permanent injunction that prohibited Lemen from, among other things, repeating the slanderous statements about the Village Inn.

Lemen challenged the injunction as an unlawful prior restraint on her constitutional right to free speech under the United States and California Constitutions. Agreeing with Lemen, the Court of Appeal invalidated the challenged portions of the injunction.

The California Supreme Court agreed that the injunction was overly broad. However, the Supreme Court explained that a narrowly tailored injunction that does no more than prohibit defendant from repeating statements that were determined at trial to be defamatory is not an unlawful prior restraint and does not offend the First Amendment or the California Constitution.