Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against APA

Rules that Ohio state court had no jurisdiction

WASHINGTON — An Ohio state court judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against the American Psychological Association on the grounds that the court had no jurisdiction in the matter. 

Judge Timothy N. O’Connell, sitting in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Ohio, ruled on Friday that his court had no jurisdiction to consider the merits of the case. APA is not based in Ohio, it engaged in no activities related to the case in that state, and APA did not direct publication or dissemination of the alleged defamatory material to individuals within the state, O’Connell said.  

“We are gratified that Judge O’Connell ruled favorably on our motion to dismiss,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “We continue to maintain that the suit itself is without merit. We hope to move on from this matter and focus APA’s core mission to use psychology to benefit society and improve people’s lives.”

The lawsuit was filed in February by five psychologists who alleged that they were defamed by the findings of an independent review that reported undisclosed coordination between some APA officials and military psychologists, resulting in ethical guidance for national security interrogation procedures that was no less restrictive than Defense Department guidelines during the George W. Bush administration. That review was conducted for APA by David Hoffman, an attorney with the firm of Sidley Austin LLP, which is based in Chicago. Hoffman and Sidley were also named in the complaint. The judge dismissed the charges against them on the same grounds — that the Ohio court had no jurisdiction. 

The lawsuit was filed by three former military psychologists — Larry James, PhD, of Dayton, Ohio; L. Morgan Banks III, PhD, of North Carolina and Debra Dunivin, PhD, of Washington, D.C. — and two former APA employees: Stephen Behnke, PhD, JD, of Washington, D.C., and Russell Newman, PhD, JD, of San Diego.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.