In the case of Reid v Dukic  ACTSC 344, a man who posted a series of Facebook posts defaming the chief executive of a Canberra football organisation has been ordered to pay her damages of $180,000.
ACT Supreme Court Justice John Burns also granted the plaintiff an injunction, following a default judgment entered against the defendant in May this year, commenting:
“The defendant in the present matter has demonstrated tendencies to act irrationally and with defiance of any judgment that may be entered … This is a clear case of for the granting of injunctive relief.”
Heather Reid (pic) who had been the chief executive officer of Capital Football for 12 years before standing down in April this year, sued Stan Dukic, a soccer coach, over nine defamatory posts published between January and December 2015.
She pleaded a host of imputations involving allegations of fraud, dishonesty, theft, incompetence, negligence, racism, gender-bias and nepotism.
Dukic removed all the posts on February 12, 2016, but failed to file a notice of intention to respond, or a defence.
A hearing before another judge in May this year resulted in a default judgment being entered for the plaintiff after Dukic indicated via email he did not wish to take part in the proceedings.
The matter proceeded to an assessment of damages before Justice Burns. The defendant again indicated he would not appear.
Justice Burns accepted the evidence given by the plaintiff and three reputation witnesses that she was a person held in high regard personally and professionally, having been awarded an AM for services to sports management.
Reid said her attention was drawn to the matters complained of by a staff member, who had been monitoring Dukic’s Facebook account following “unsavoury comments” he posted about her in 2014.
The plaintiff described Dukic’s posts as “insulting”, “offensive”, “upsetting” and a “slur on her integrity”, which left her feeling “defenceless, disgusted and appalled” and affected her confidence so much so that she withdrew from the general football community.
Christopher Doyle, competitions manager of Capital Football, Peter Hugg, the head of Football NSW and Raenne Dower, the Capital football’s assistant technical director all gave evidence of the distressing effect Dukic’s posts had on Reid.
In determining whether aggravated damages should be payable, Justice Burns took into account Dukic’s various emails to Reid’s solicitors and court staff stating that he planned to “go bankrupt” and threatening to release a media statement accusing the plaintiff of “breaking the law”.
His Honour (pic) accepted that Dukic’s Facebook profile was public, not private and hence his posts were widely accessible to anyone. He also accepted that:
“Social media publications have a tendency to spread. I agree that the evidence in the present case established that the defendant’s posts were not confined to a small pool of people, but had infiltrated, at the least, the wider community in the context of football.”
Justice Burns likened the present case to French v Fraser, in which Justice Lucy McCallum referred to the plaintiff as “the target of a senseless vendetta founded in madness”.
He determined the appropriate damages at $180,000, comprising $160,000 in general damages and $20,000 in aggravated damages.
He also granted the plaintiff injunctive relief.
For the plaintiff: Matthew Lewis instructed by Mills Oakley.
For the defendant: No appearance.
This post originally appeared in the Gazette of Law and Journalism, Australia’s leading online media law publication.