High Court Case Examines Passing Off, Defamation, Harassment, and GDPR Compliance

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2626 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the High Court of Justice King’s Bench Division, a case between Siobhain Crosbie and Caroline Ley has thoroughly examined issues pertaining to passing off, defamation, harassment, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The presiding judge, Mr. Justice Julian Knowles, provided a detailed judgment considering the facts and allegations brought forward by both parties, with a focus on the veracity of claims, the impact on reputations and feelings, and the intent and consequences of the alleged actions.

Key Facts

Siobhain Crosbie, the claimant, brought action against Caroline Ley, the defendant, accusing her of passing off and, thereby, causing financial loss to her therapy business. The defendant counterclaimed for defamation, harassment, and breach of the GDPR, after enduring a series of damaging social media posts and other publicly shared allegations made by the claimant over several years.

The claims and counterclaims required the examination of several key issues. For passing off, it was essential to establish the existence of goodwill, an actionable misrepresentation, and resultant damage. The defamation claim required proof that the published statements were defamatory, caused serious harm to the defendant’s reputation and that no defense (such as truth or public interest) was valid. For harassment, there needed to be evidence of a targeted, oppressive course of conduct causing alarm, fear, or distress. The GDPR claim was ready to stand down if the defamation and harassment claims were substantiated.

Passing Off

The court reiterates that for a claim of passing off, three elements must be proven: (a) existent goodwill attached to goods or services, (b) a misrepresentation leading to public confusion, and (c) damages suffered as a result of the erroneous belief instigated by such misrepresentation. This aligns with the principles stated in Reckitt & Colman Products Ltd v Borden Inc (No 3).

Defamation

The judgments in prior cases such as Millett v Corbyn and Koutsogiannis v The Random House Group Limited were referenced for determining what constitutes a defamatory statement. The standards for proving the truth of a statement in defamation, as delineated in Section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013, were applied. The seriousness of harm, as required by Section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013, was assessed with consideration to the scale and extent of publication, the credibility of the publisher, and the identities of publishees.

Harassment

For the harassment claim, the court utilized the benchmarks established in cases like Hayden v Dickenson, focusing on whether the conduct in question was oppressive and unacceptable to a point warranting criminal liability. It was essential to consider if there was a course of conduct that targeted the victim and caused unjustifiable harm, as specified in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

GDPR

Although the court did not have to delve into the GDPR claim, standard protocols for personal data processing were ready to be evaluated had the matter required adjudication.

Outcomes

The court dismissed the claimant’s case for passing off, finding it totally without merit, as it relied on an unfounded hypothesis regarding the creation of misleading business listings by the defendant. For defamation, the court held in favor of the defendant, awarding substantial damages and a Section 12 order for the publication of a summary of judgment. The defendant’s case for harassment was also successful, leading to an injunction against further publications by the claimant.

Conclusion

The robust examination in Siobhain Crosbie v Caroline Ley reaffirms the threshold for establishing cases of passing off and the dire consequences of defamatory and harassing behavior on professional reputations. The High Court of Justice has underscored the seriousness of misuse of publicly accessible platforms to damage individuals’ lives and livelihoods. Upholding factual veracity and ethical conduct remains cornerstone in mitigating legal disputes in these contexts. By establishing a high standard for evidence in such matters, this case will serve as a staunch precedent for future litigation involving similar allegations.

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