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An attorney with Boston-based Bingham Dana led a legal team in what is believed to be one of the first judgments nationwide against those who defame others online. Attorney Charles L. Solomont, representing the bio-medical firm Biomatrix Inc. in New Jersey, won a ruling from the Bergen County Superior Court in New Jersey that found three individuals published libelous statements against Biomatrix on two Web sites. The two sites were a Yahoo message board and the message board of Genzyme Corporation in Cambridge, Mass., which plans to merge with Biomatrix by the end of this year. Defendants Richard and Raymond Costanzo of North Carolina and Ephraim Morris of Arizona will go to trial now to determine damages in the defamation suit. Raymond Costanzo and Morris are former employees of Biomatrix. No court date has been set. ANONYMOUS CLAIMS According to the court decision written by Superior Court Judge Peter F. Boggia, the three made anonymous claims online that officers of Biomatrix were “Nazi doctors” and that a major product of the firm, Synvisc, had killed several people. They claimed, in court papers, that [the plaintiffs] “cannot prove damages and no one would take the postings seriously.” But the court’s decision relied largely on a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling — Nappe v. Anschelewitz, Barr, Ansell & Bonello, 97 N.J. 37, 47 (1984) — that held “the courts have not adhered to the common-law distinction and have sustained actions in the absence of proof of compensatory damage. These include libel, slander per se, nuisance and malicious prosecution.” Solomont said the original lawsuit was filed against “John Does,” because the identities of the perpetrators were not known. With help from Yahoo, he said, “We determined who they were around the time the companies announced the merger. Their statements could potentially have some serious ramifications for the companies, and an impact on shareholders reading them.” He said the decision has far-ranging implications for other cases now pending nationwide, in which anonymous, defaming claims are made against individuals and other entities. “People post these messages using aliases and believe it protects them from liability for their actions. But this case shows the perpetrators of [such] online claims can be prosecuted.”

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