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Monday, February 14, 2022
MFIA Clinic Wins Dismissal in Suit Against Local News Site
On Feb. 4, 2022, Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic won dismissal of a defamation suit against local news site the New Canaanite and its editor Michael Dinan.
The case is part of MFIA’s Local News Initiative, which provides pro bono legal services to support small and nonprofit news sites throughout New England.
Plaintiff Farva Jafri had filed claims of defamation, false light, and assault against the clinic’s clients as part of a broader lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by the town of New Canaan and some of its officials. United States District Court Judge Kari A. Dooley held that the federal court lacked jurisdiction over Jafri’s state law claims and dismissed them.
According to Jafri, a Pakistani-American lawyer, the town of New Canaan and various town officials singled her out in issuing her a parking ticket while she was working as an Uber driver in March 2019. The lawsuit alleges that she was also treated in a racially discriminatory manner during a July 2019 parking bureau hearing where the ticket was upheld.
While her claims of discrimination were not addressed to MFIA’s clients, Jafri’s complaint alleged that Dinan made up statements attributed to her in an article reporting on the parking bureau hearing and had defamed her and cast her in a false light. Her complaint further alleged that Dinan assaulted her by standing near her with his phone camera after she asked him to move away.
Judge Dooley found that the discrimination claims against the town and the various claims against MFIA’s clients were “essentially, two different lawsuits,” with little relation to each other. The claims against the town are a matter of federal law under the district court’s jurisdiction. The claims against MFIA’s clients, on the other hand, arise under state law and the complaint did not allege any proper grounds for the court to exercise jurisdiction over the defendants in the state law claims, according to the court.
“This dismissal is a victory for local journalism in Connecticut,” said MFIA clinic student Alice Longenbach ’23, who worked on the case. “Local news coverage is essential for a healthy democracy, and journalists need to be able to do their jobs without the fear of unnecessary lawsuits. Since local reporters tend to operate with limited resources, it is important for meritless claims to be dismissed before moving to costly litigation.”
The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic is dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression through impact litigation, direct legal services, and policy work.