Firm Successfully Appeals Food Lion Verdict Against ABC
Bruce Ennis successfully appealed a judgment against client ABC, sued by a grocery store chain after the television network aired an unflattering exposé. The case centered around two reporters who posed as Food Lion employees after receiving a tip about unsanitary food practices. Using cameras hidden in wigs, the reporters videotaped the practices and featured the footage on Primetime Live in 1992. Food Lion sued ABC for fraud, trespassing and breach of loyalty. In 1997, a jury awarded Food Lion $5.5 million, although a district court judge later reduced that to $316,000. On appeal, Bruce argued that Food Lion sought to skirt daunting First Amendment standards to prove defamation by suing ABC not for libel but rather for violations of state law. On this day in 1999, the Fourth Circuit rejected Food Lion’s fraud claim (and the $316,000 in damages tied to it) and upheld the trespass and breach of loyalty claims, but reduced the damages to $3. Sadly, the Food Lion matter would be Bruce’s last major case before he succumbed to cancer.
Firm Makes Successful Argument in Supreme Court's First Foray into Internet First Amendment Issues
In recognition of “National Library Week,” we recall Bruce Ennis’ successful challenge of the Federal Communications Decency Act on behalf of the American Library Association and other clients before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act made it a crime to provide “indecent” material to minors over what was then a fairly new medium: the Internet. In March 1997, the Court heard arguments in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union – a case the Washington Post called the Court’s “first venture into cyberspace.” Bruce argued that the Act infringed on the First Amendment rights of adults across the country. Readily available software blockers would be far more effective than the government in protecting children from adult material, he said. As for the Act’s impact on the First Amendment, he wrote in a brief that "it is hard to imagine a criminal standard that provides less guidance, or to conceive of a speech prohibition that would have a broader chilling effect.” On June 26, 1997, the Court ruled that free speech protections apply just as much to the fast-growing digital universe as to books and newspapers. The Act, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community."