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US Court Dismisses Nigerian Pastor’s Defamation Suit Against Arise TV

 

NIGERIAN broadcaster, Arise TV, has won a defamation suit brought against it in the United States by a Nigerian pastor, Adetunmbi Adewami.

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The US District Court in Maryland dismissed the suit on Tuesday, holding that it lacked jurisdiction over the television station.

Judge Peter Messite held that the fact that the news article complained of by the plaintiff was accessible through the internet in Maryland did not automatically empower the court to hear the matter.

He maintained that the defendant, Arise TV, must have sufficient contact with Maryland to activate the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

“Merely broadcasting a news article that became accessible on the internet in the state is not sufficient to show a defendant’s own contacts with the state,” Mr Massite ruled.

Plaintiff’s grievance

The lead pastor of Christ Royal Assembly for All Nations International, headquartered in Maryland, USA, filed the case against Arise TV, through its parent company, Arise Media Inc.(Nigeria), on 20 April 2023.

He alleged in the suit that a news article, titled, ‘Pastor charges N310k for heaven’, which Arise TV aired and published on the internet on 27 April 2022, caused him harm and resulted in “severe and serious emotional distress.”

He said the article falsely used his picture and maliciously claimed that he charged congregants N310,000 to enable them to fly to heaven.

The pastor said this “false and offensive broadcast” was aired and disseminated to a global audience through the internet and to the thousands of people who live in Maryland.

For this reason, Mr Adewami said the circulation of that broadcast damaged his reputation as a “cleric, pastor, and Christian missionary” to the point that he lost congregation members.

He further claimed that this reputational harm resulted in “severe and serious emotional distress” which he experienced in the state of Maryland.

He said the online publication by Arise TV amounted to “both libel and libel per se, false light invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress (both intentional and negligent), and common-law misappropriation” of his image and likeness.

Call for default judgement

Court documents show that Arise TV was served with the complaint on 9 May 2023, and proof of service was filed with the court by 15 June 2023, as Arise TV did not respond within the requisite period.

On 1 July 2023, Mr Adewami moved for “entry of default” judgement against Arise TV. Two months later, in September, the clerk of the court issued an order of default against Arise TV.

Court’s findings

After reviewing the submitted materials, the court found that no hearing was necessary and, therefore, the case must be “dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.”

“Accordingly, the motion for default judgement is moot,” the court ruled, implying that the motion was not worth considering.

The court held that “any judgement entered against a defendant over whom the court does not have personal jurisdiction is void.”

The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over Arise TV because Arise is not incorporated in Maryland and has no explicit affiliation with Maryland.

Having reviewed the broadcast, which is accessible online, the court found that Arise TV did not broadcast the news article about Mr Adewami with the intent to target the Maryland audience.

“The mere fact that information is available on the internet is not sufficient to demonstrate targeting,” the court ruled.

The court held that, although the news article about Mr Adewami was accessible online in Maryland and that the plaintiff complained of suffering various injuries in Maryland because of it, that is insufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction. [Premium Times]

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