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Erickson v. Jones Street Publishers, LLC
South Carolina Supreme Court
629 S.E.2d 653 (2006)
Linda Erickson (plaintiff) served as a private guardian ad litem (GAL) in South Carolina. The Charleston City Paper, a publication of Jones Street Publishers, LLC (defendant), published an article criticizing the GAL program. The article included the story of Pat Beal. Beal said that her daughter, who was in an abusive marriage, and two grandchildren moved in with her. After certain behaviors arose that suggested one of Beal’s grandchildren may have been molested by her father, Erickson was assigned as the children’s GAL. Beal expressed many complaints about Erickson’s conduct as a GAL, claiming she did not conduct adequate interviews with family members, did not interview the grandchild at all, blocked an agreement that gave Beal’s daughter full custody, manipulated the judge into barring Beal from seeing her granddaughter without supervision, and had the judge write in the final divorce decree that Beal could not contact her minor grandchildren. The article did not name Erickson as the GAL, but Jones Street Publishers did not dispute that Erickson was identifiable from the article. Erickson testified that her role as a GAL and counselor in family-matter cases was private, confidential, and personal. As a GAL, Erickson could investigate and make recommendations at the request of the family court but had no power to resolve issues herself. Erickson knew about public discussion around making changes to the guardian system, but she never made any public statements herself about the debate. Erickson was immune as a GAL from lawsuits based on actions taken within the duties of her position. Erickson sued Jones Street for defamation in state court. Jones Street Publishers argued that GALs should be considered public figures in defamation actions. The trial court dismissed Erickson’s lawsuit, and she appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Burnett., J.)
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