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Former Junior Achievement boss loses defamation appeal

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The former head of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana failed Thursday in his bid to reinstate defamation claims against a business and a nonprofit that owned computers from which critical comments about him were posted online.

Jeffrey M. Miller sued multiple defendants who posted comments on various Indianapolis media websites in 2010. Miller claims he was defamed by online commenters who criticized his leadership of JA, which he ran from 1994 until 2008.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele properly granted summary judgment in favor of Federal Express Corp. and 500 Festival Inc.

Those organizations owned computers from which comments alleging misuse of funds and possible criminal acts were posted to a story about JA on the Indianapolis Business Journal website. Keele concluded that Miller had no claim against FedEx or 500 Festival for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the appeals panel affirmed the ruling.

The panel ruled “the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of 500 Festival and FedEx, finding each to be sued in their capacity as a publisher of the information at issue and concluding that, as such, these defendants were immune from the Millers’ claims under Section 230(c) of the federal Communications Decency Act because these defendants are providers of an interactive computer service.”

The ruling does not bar claims against those who wrote the comments, who are considered “publishers” under the act. Only one commenter is identified in the order—500 Festival Vice President of Corporate Sponsorship Dave Wilson. Miller was able to trace the comments through IP addresses to 500 Festival and FedEx computers, but he was unable to determine who at FedEx posted two of the comments that form part of the basis of his suit.

Miller also contended FedEx and 500 Festival inadequately responded to his efforts to determine who posted the comments.

"Although there may have remained a genuine issue of material fact concerning spoliation of evidence under state law, the trial court properly granted summary judgment," Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel. However, “these issues are mooted by the fact that both FedEx and 500 Festival are immune from the claims brought by the Millers."

Miller previously won an appellate victory that the Indiana Supreme Court declined to review ordering The Indianapolis Star to identify anonymous commenters who Miller sought to name in a defamation action.

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