Zabriskie v. ACLU of Michigan | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Case Overview

A police officer sued the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan for defamation because it published a press release and public letter arguing that he may have engaged in illegal jury tampering. The ACLU of Michigan based that letter and press release on a court transcript — which are almost universally accurate — that had a typo in it. Unfortunately, that typo made it seem like the police officer may have engaged in jury tampering, which he didn’t. 


Despite well-established precedent from New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and decades of related case law, the Michigan Court of Appeals flipped the “actual malice” standard on its head and held that the ACLU of Michigan can be sued for defamation even when it genuinely believed that the court transcript was accurate and even when it concerned a public official. On November 9, 2022, FIRE filed an amicus brief in the Michigan Supreme Court urging it to take up this appeal and vindicate the Sullivan “actual malice standard” as the First Amendment requires. If not, the rights of Michiganders to freely debate the most contested issues of our time will be constantly under threat.

Michigan court attempts to change defamation law, to detriment of free speech