Swartz v. Does: Tennessee Couple Sues Anonymous Author(s) of Local Blog for Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

On Monday, a prominent couple from Old Hickory, Tennessee sued three anonymous defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy over statements appearing on the Stop Swartz blog and craigslist. The plaintiffs, Donald and Terry Keller Swartz, buy and sell a lot of real estate in Old Hickory, and a bit of local political maneuvering on their part seems to have earned them some enemies. The purpose of the Stop Swartz blog, which criticizes the Swartzes' real estate activties and other aspects of their personal and political lives, is self-described as sharing "the truth about Don and Terry and their actions and activities in and around Old Hickory," and it encourages readers to submit their own "Swartz incident[s]."

The Swartzes' complaint, filed in Tennessee state court, alleges that the blog's author and an unknown accomplice posted false and defamatory statements about them on the blog, including statements accusing them of committing arson, evicting renters "without a moments notice," and failing to record property sales in a local registry. Additionally, the complaint alleges that the blog's author violated Terry Keller Swartz's privacy by re-publishing a statement posted anonymously on craigslist that revealed that she was an "ex-addict." Charles Sizemore, the Swartzes' attorney, told Tennessean.com that he intends to subpoena Google -- the owner of Blogger, which hosts Stop Swartz -- to uncover the identity of the blog's author.

The most novel aspect of the case from a legal point of view is the Swartzes' claim that a posting on Stop Swartz invaded their privacy by encouraging readers to stalk them. Acccording to the complaint, the post read:

When you see a Swartz, no matter how trivial it may seem, leave a comment. Extra points if you observe them outside the village. This serves two purposes: First, it helps us all to keep tabs on Don and Terry and to know what they are up to. Second, it sends a clear message to Don and Terry that their actions are not being ignored . . . . We will tolerate their crap no longer.

It is not clear what kind of invasion of privacy claim the Swartzes mean to make here. There are three kinds of invasion of privacy claim: (1) intrusion on seclusion -- which involves an intrusion into a place where the plaintiff has an expectation of privacy; (2) publication of private facts -- which involves publication of true but private facts about the plaintiff, in a manner that is highly offensive to a reasonable person; and (3) false light invasion of privacy -- which involves publication of true facts in such a way as to cast the plaintiff in an unfairly negative light. While revealing that Terry Swartz is an "ex-addict" fits snugly into category (2), allegedly encouraging community members to "stalk" the Swartzes does not easily fit into any of these categories. It will be interesting to see how the plaintiffs develop this claim and whether the court will have any patience with it.

We'll keep an eye on this one.


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Dear Sam,
Thank you for taking the time to render your opinion regarding this case. We, here at stopswartz, tend to agree with your findings. About the issue of Mrs. Swartz being outed as an “ex-addict” I would like to just say a couple of things. Mrs. Swartz served time in a federal prison on a drug offense. She and her husband are both recovering alcoholics, a detail that they do not hide. In fact, they each have a vanity plate on their personal vehicles with common slogans from Alcoholics Anonymous. One plate has JS42DAY (or something close to that) and the other, as I recall, has a shortened version of a similarly recognizable recovery slogan. Mrs. Swartz grew up in this community and many who attended high school with her are aware of her addition to drugs and alcohol and her run-in with the law. That Mrs. Swartz is an ex-addict is common knowledge in the Old Hickory Village. Also, it was not the blog that labeled Mrs. Swartz as an ex-addict, but a commenter. We don’t feel that any privacy issues have been breached.


Thanks very much for providing this additional information. You are right that if a fact is not private in any realistic sense, then it cannot be the basis of a publication of private facts claim. This is a factual issue that would need to be determined by the finder of fact (usually a jury, but sometimes the court in a bench trial); it is not a legal deficiency in the claim itself.

Lawsuits against Bloggers

What we have here is two people with a few followers who threaten,itimidate and seek total control over every aspect of life in Old Hickory. They are on the board and control the neigborhood association.They seek to control who is elected in public office by placing signs in yards degrading candidates,websites full of mistruths.