Board of Forensic Document Examiners, Inc. v. American Bar Association, No. 18-2653 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
The Board of Forensic Document Examiners (BFDE), a nonprofit organization, administers a certification program for forensic document examiners. The Board has certified about a dozen examiners. Vastrick, a forensic document examiner certified by another, much larger organization, the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, published an article, Forensic Handwriting Comparison Examination in the Courtroom, in The Judges’ Journal, a peer-reviewed scholarly journal published by the ABA. Vastrick urged judges to look for experts certified by the American Board and warned judges to “be wary of other certifying bodies.” The article did not mention BFDE by name. BFDE submitted a rebuttal, but frustrated with the ABA’s suggested edits, BFDE filed suit, claiming defamation per se and invasion of privacy on behalf of its members. BFDE also asserted civil conspiracy, false advertising under the Lanham Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, ruling that the article contained only constitutionally-protected, non-actionable opinion. The Journal warned readers that “[a]rticles represent the opinions of the authors alone” and “provide opposing views” for readers to consider. Vastrick highlighted the subjective nature of his article, presenting his views as suggestions, not facts. Vastrick’s assertion that the American Board “is the only certification board recognized by the broader forensic science community, law enforcement, and courts,” reflects the expression of a viewpoint and is so broad as to lack objective, verifiable meaning.