Nilan v. Valenti: Digital Media Law Summary with many links: 2010 First Amendment Case Del Gallo wins

Nilan v. Valenti

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the “Description” section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.


Threat Type:









Injunction Denied

Verdict or Settlement Amount:

According to a police report, on December 8, 2011, Meredith Nilan, the 24-year-old daughter of the Chief of Probation at Berkshire Superior Court, was involved in a car accident. While driving home from a social gathering, Nilan allegedly… read full description

Party Receiving Legal Threat:

Dan Valenti

Type of Party:


Type of Party:


Location of Party:

  • Massachusetts

Location of Party:

  • Massachusetts

Legal Counsel:

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, Bill Newman

According to a police report, on December 8, 2011, Meredith Nilan, the 24-year-old daughter of the Chief of Probation at Berkshire Superior Court, was involved in a car accident. While driving home from a social gathering, Nilan allegedly hit a running pedestrian, Peter Moore. According to the police report, she claimed she stopped and looked around, but then left the scene of the accident. According to The Berkshire Eagle and the police report, Moore suffered serious injuries.After further investigation by the Pittsfield Police Department, Nilan was charged with leaving the scene of a personal injury accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle to endanger. Later, in a closed show cause hearing on January 12, 2012, Assistant Clerk-Magistrate Nathan A. Byrnes found insufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.

Around this time, Valenti started blogging about the developments of the case on his blog Valenti’s blog suggested that Nilan might be receiving favorable treatment because of her father’s position. He also questioned Nilan’s version of events as reflected in the police report about the scene of the accident.

On February 13, 2012, Springfield District Court Judge William P. Hadley overturned the Clerk-Magistrate’s determination, and held there was probable cause to charge Nilan with leaving the scene of an accident and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.  She was later arraigned and charged; on June 6, 2012, prosecutors dismissed the charge of leaving the scene of an accident, and continued the misdemeanor negligent operation charge for six months Throughout these proceedings, Valenti continued to blog about the case.

On June 22, 2012, Meredith Nilan filed a complaint for a civil harassment prevention order and supporting affidavit against Valenti in the Central Berkshire (Pittsfield) District Court. Nilan claimed that Valenti’s blog posts were “lies and innuendo” and a “regular and malicious attack” on her reputation. She asserted that because of Valenti’s “sensational interpretations” and reader’s “anonymous rants,” she feared “vigilante justice,” and that “Mr. Valenti’s continued vitriol and his repeated inclination to print lies and sensationalize every aspect of my case has made me fear for my personal safety.”

A few days later on June 27, 2012, after an ex parte hearing, District Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega issued a harassment prevention order directing Valenti “to remove any and all information referring to the Plaintiff [Ms. Nilan] from any and all websites, blogs, etc.” Also included was an order to stay 100 yards from the plaintiff and to stay away from the plaintiff’s work and residence.

On his blog, Valenti wrote that he complied with the order on June 28, 2012, after recivint the order the night before.

Valenti filed a responsive affidavit on July 5, 2012, in which he detailed how he became involved in the Nilan story and responded to Nilan’s claims. In his affidavit, he asserted that he had “never met her, talked with her, been near her, contacted or attempted to contact her, or spoken to Meredith Nilan, let alone ‘harass'[ed] her.” Valenti claimed that he reported facts “honestly, fairly, diligently, and justly,” and that while he invited readers to share their views, he did not enourage outrage.

On July 9, 2012, the court held a hearing on the prevention order. According to a news report on the hearing, Valenti read his affidavit aloud, and Nilan read a statement.

Valenti’s lawyer, Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, also filed a brief in his defense. In the brief, Valenti argued that he did not “harass” Nilan, as defined in the statute, because he had never met her or had any contact with her.  Valenti also argued that the civil harassment statute, Mass. Gen. Laws c. 258E, does not authorize a court to proscribe or censure speech on the Internet, and that the statute would be unconstitutionally overbroad if applied to the blog. Citing O’Brien v. Borowski, 461 Mass. 415 (2012), in which the Supreme Judicial Court interpreted c. 258E to avoid overbreadth by limiting its reach to “fighting words” and “true threats,” the brief further asserted that there was no “face-to-face” confrontation likely to provoke violence (as required by the “fighting words” doctrine) or “intent to commit an unlawful act” against Nilan (as required to prove a “true threat”). Rather, Valenti claimed that his blog posts were true speech on a matter of public concern, and that the the judge’s previous order was an unconstitutional prior restraint under the First Amendment and Massachusetts Consitution.

Nilan did not file a response, according to the Central Berkshire District Court clerk’s office.

Bill Newman, director of Western Massachusetts ACLU, submitted an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the order was an impermissible prior restraint and “sweeping censorship.” The amicus argued that the order to remove previously published information is even worse than a typical prior restraint because “it does not merely ‘freeze’ the speaker; it requires him to bowdlerize prior speech.” The amicus also argued that Nilan’s affidavit did not allege “three acts of either ‘fighting words’ or ‘true threat’ by Valenti or his web site,” as required by the statute.

At the July 9, 2012 hearing, Judge Mark D. Mason overruled and vacated the harassment prevention order.

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