The New York Court of Appeals has denied a bid by author Rachel Ehrenfeld to have a U.S. court declare a libel judgment issued against her in the U.K. unenforceable in America. Ehrenfeld filed her suit after Saudi businessman Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz sued her in the U.K., charging that her 2003 book, Funding Evil, libeled him by asserting that Mahfouz has provided monetary support for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In December 2004, a U.K. court ruled for Mahfouz even though the book, published in the U.S. by Bonus Books, was never released in the U.K. In addition to monetary damages, the U.K. court ruled that the book could not be published in the U.K. and that Ehrenfeld owed Mahfouz an apology.
In an effort to blunt the impact of the ruling, Ehrenfeld filed suit in 2005 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment that the U.K. libel ruling was uneforceable in the U.S. The court dismissed her claim on the grounds that it did not have jurisdiction to issue such an injunction. Ehrenfeld appealed, claiming that by "purposefully projected himself into the state to further a ‘foreign litigation scheme' designed to chill [Ehrenfeld's] speech" he was doing business in New York and thus fell under the state's "long-arm" statute.
In today's ruling, the New York Appeals Court found that Mahfouz's actions did not fall under the long-arm statute and agreed with Mahfouz that the U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction to declare the U.K. verdict uneforceable in the U.S. In its decision, the court noted that it was not ruling on the propriety of English libel law, but only on the question of whether Mahfouz's action "establish a proper basis for jurisdiction" for Ehrenfeld's suit to go forward.
Judy Platt, staff director for the AAP's Freedom to Read committee, said the AAP was "deeply disappointed" by the ruling. The AAP, along with several other organizations and companies, had filed a friend of the court brief in support of Ehrenfeld. The Mahfouz case, Platt noted, is a primary explain of libel tourism in which people who feel they have been libeled in books published in the U.S. file suit in other countries with weak libel laws. Despite the U.K. ruling, Ehrenfeld has not paid any damages. Bonus publisher Jeff Stern said the company stands behind Ehrenfeld and her book, which remains in print in the U.S.