SANDUSKY COUNTY, OH (WOIO) - A Youngstown man could get an even bigger settlement from his ex-wife because the $100 defamation award was just too low, according to an Ohio appeals court.
The low settlement was awarded because the trial judge incorrectly assumed that the offending Facebook posts were read mostly in northwest Ohio where the man used to reside with his ex-wife.
The Sixth District Court of Appeals reversed a Sandusky County Common Pleas Court decision last week and found that Brett Forinash is entitled to a new evaluation of his damages caused by a series of false claims made on social media by his ex-wife. The posts by Angela Weber starting in late 2012 pertained primarily to the ongoing court battle between the two regarding their child.
Forinash filed his lawsuit in 2013 based on Weber's Facebook profile post that alleged he was "hooked on porn [and] watches dirty movies with teenage girls." Forinash sought damages in excess of $25,000 as well as orders to have Weber remove the defamatory statements and refrain from further postings.
He later amended his complaint to seek damages for Weber's "spoliation of the evidence" because she took down the offending posts after receiving his revised lawsuit.
The trial court granted summary judgment to Forinash, finding he was defamed, and awarded $100 in nominal damages. The court also provided Forinash $500 in punitive damages, finding that Weber acted with malice, and ordered her to pay $2,000 for Forinash's attorney fees. The trial court didn't address the spoliation claim.
Forinash appealed the decision to the Sixth District, maintaining the trial judge used the wrong standard to calculate damages and that he should have also received damages for spoliation of the evidence.
Writing for the Sixth District, Judge James D. Jensen noted the trial court's rationale for the $100 was based on the view that Forinash's standing in the community wasn't tarnished because he now lives in Youngstown and Weber lives in Sandusky County "where the Facebook posts would primarily have been read." The trial court also noted that Forinash didn't lose his job or suffer any reduction in wages because of the posts.
Judge Jensen, however, agreed with Forinash's argument that Facebook posts aren't confined to a geographic region and that Forinash supported his claim by providing testimony that friends in North Carolina questioned him about Weber's comments.