SLAPP

Georgia Community Support and Solutions v. Berryhill (Correspondence)

Date: 

01/01/2005

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Shirley Berryhill

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Legal Counsel: 

Torin D. Togut

Publication Medium: 

Email
Website

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Lawsuit Filed

Description: 

Georgia Community Support and Solutions, Inc. (GCSS), a non-profit organization that provides assistance to disabled adults and their families, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Shirley Berryhill, a mother who made critical comments about GCSS in a web posting and in emails to employees of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Department of Human Resources. In these communications, Berryhill claimed that her son was receiving poor treatment and care from a GCSS-referred service. After Berryhill refused to retract and apologize for the statements she made, GCSS filed suit. See our related database entry, Georgia Community Support and Solutions, Inc. v. Berryhill (Lawsuit).

Jurisdiction: 

Priority: 

2-Normal

CMLP Notes: 

Dig for more information on the correspondence. The appeals court decision mentions it (on Westlaw at 620 S.E.2d 178). {MCS}

Updated 7/08/2008 (JMC)- Unable to locate cease and desist letter. Maybe I can call Georgia Legal Services, 1100 Spring St, Atlanta, Georgia 30309-2846, Fulton County County, (404) 656-6021 because Torin Togut is no longer listed as employed at Georgia Legal Services.

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Georgia Community Support and Solutions v. Berryhill (Lawsuit)

Date: 

02/08/2005

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Shirley Berryhill

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Georgia State Court; Court of Appeals of Georgia; Georgia Supreme Court

Case Number: 

A05A1121 (GA Appeals); 06G0038 (GA Supreme)

Legal Counsel: 

Torin D. Togut

Publication Medium: 

Email
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

On February 8th, 2005, Georgia Community Support and Solutions (GCSS), a non-profit organization that provides assistance to disabled adults and their families, filed a lawsuit against Shirley Berryhill for defamation and tortious interference with business relations over statements she made on a website for families of disabled adults and in emails to employees of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

According to court documents, GCSS placed Ms. Berryhill's mentally handicapped son with providers of personal care. Subsequently, Ms. Berryhill allegedly made statements in web postings and emails asserting that her son was suffering from poor treatment and care. GCSS sent Berryhill a cease-and-desist letter regarding the statements (see our database entry) and, after Berryhill refused to retract and apologize for the statements she made, the organization filed suit in Georgia state court.

Ms. Berryhill filed a motion to strike the complaint pursuant to Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute (GA. Code Ann. § 9-11-11.1(b), and the trial court granted the motion. The court concluded that Berryhill's statements satisfied the threshold requirement of the anti-SLAPP statute because they were made in furtherance of her right to free speech about an issue of public concern.

The Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, ruling that the anti-SLAPP statute only protects statements made in connection with  official government proceedings. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decision, concluding that Ms. Berryhill's speech and acts did not fall within the scope of Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and the Atlanta Press Club filed an amicus brief in support of Ms. Berryhill.

We have not determined what happened in the litigation following the Georgia Supreme Court's 2006 decision.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

 

 

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Batzel v. Smith

Date: 

09/07/2000

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Robert Smith; Netherlands Museums Association; Ton Cremers; Mosler, Inc.; Does 1-50

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

U.S. District Court for Central District of California; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina

Case Number: 

2:00-cv-09590 (California trial); 01-56556 (California appeals)

Legal Counsel: 

Robert Smith, Pro se; David D. Johnson, Eric D. Brown, Pamela S. Palmer, Steven T. Chinowsky - Latham & Watkins LLP, Stephen J. Newman - Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP (for Cremers); Robert P. Long - Kinkle Rodiger & Spriggs (for Mosler, Inc.)

Publication Medium: 

Email

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Description: 

In September 2000, Ellen Batzel, a California attorney, sued Robert Smith, Ton Cremers, the Netherlands Museums Association ("NMA"), and Mosler, Inc. for defamation after Cremers published on an international email list an email, written by Smith, in which Smith accused Batzel of owning art stolen by the Nazis and being a descendant of Heinrich Himmler. Batzel filed identical lawsuits in both California federal court and North Carolina federal court.

In the summer of 1999, Smith contacted Cremers, who operated the Museum Security Network ("MSN") website, to notify him about his suspicions regarding Batzel, for whom Smith worked as a handyman at the time.  Smith apparently intended the email to be a private communication, and was unaware of the MSN mailing list that Cremers edited and published.  Cremers posted Smith's email to the MSN list, which is distributed via email and also posted on the MSN site, without notifying Smith that he was doing so.

Batzel became aware of the MSN list posting about her and contacted Cremers within a few months. Cremers in turn contacted Smith for clarification about his statements.  Smith affirmed his statements, but told Cremers that he would never have sent Cremers the email had he known it would appear on the MSN list. Batzel denied Smith's accusations, and in turn accused Smith of trying to defame her because she refused to help him find contacts regarding a screenplay he wrote.

Batzel filed lawsuits in both California and North Carolina in September 2000.  Smith and Mosler, Inc., a sponsor of the MSN list, both filed an answer in California, and Batzel dropped them from the North Carolina lawsuit.  The NMA did not file an answer in either suit, and the California court granted default judgment against it. 

Unaware of the North Carolina lawsuit, Cremers filed an answer in California and moved to dismiss Batzel's case under California's anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16).  In July 2001, the district court denied Cremer's motion, ruling that Batzel had shown sufficient probability of prevailing on her claims to survive an anti-SLAPP motion. The court dismissed Batzel's claims against Mosler, Inc., finding that sponsorship of the MSN list was not sufficient to impose liability.

Batzel and Cremers both appealed.  In June 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Mosler dismissal and vacated the district court's ruling on Cremers' anti-SLAPP motion.  While the court of appeals agreed that Batzel had shown a likelihood of prevailing in her defamation claim, it ruled that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA 230") controlled the case.  The court held that, if Cremers had reasonably believed that Smith provided the email to be published on the MSN list, then CDA 230 protected him from defamation liability for publishing the content of Smith's email. Because the facts were not clear from the record, the court remanded the case to district court to determine whether Cremers had a reasonable belief that Smith had provided his email for publication.

Batzel petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Court denied her petition. Meanwhile, Cremers became aware of Batzel's lawsuit in North Carolina, for which he had never been served. The North Carolina court dismissed Batzel's lawsuit with prejudice in April 2001 for failure to prosecute. Cremers moved for summary judgment in California in November 2004, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata barred Batzel from suing Cremers in the California action. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the case against Cremers in March 2005.

It is unclear what happened regarding Batzel's claims against Smith.  According to the California district court's docket, all motions and orders mailed to Smith from 2004 on were returned for failure of delivery.

Jurisdiction: 

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Hammitt v. Watson

Date: 

12/02/2007

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Teresa Watson; RomeNewsByWatson.com, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Floyd County Superior Court, Georgia

Case Number: 

07-04954

Legal Counsel: 

Pro se

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Withdrawn

Description: 

On December 2, 2007, Ed and Brenda Hammitt filed a lawsuit against Teresa Watson, the operator of RomeNewsByWatson.com, a news website that purports to "document . . . items of public corruption," claiming defamation and libel for publishing comments made by an anonymous user of the website.

The complaint alleges that an anonymous user of RomeNewsByWatson.com, using the pseudonym "dirtyboy," accused the plaintiffs of being involved in criminal activity in a comment to an article named "Dixie Mafia Chapter 5: How to Marginalize an Opponent in Three Easy Steps" that mentioned Bobby Lee Cook, one of the three attorneys representing the Hammitts. The original comment has been removed from the website, but can be found in Exhibit A of the complaint.

On December 18th, 2007, a staff reporter for RomeNewsByWatson.com reported that the case was withdrawn by the plaintiffs. The report also stated that the plaintiffs had filed the lawsuit

without serving the Georgia Code Required 7-Day Demand Letter, asking for a retraction. They also neglected to file a Special Affidavit required by federal and state law on issues of Free Speech and Public Participation.

Anti-SLAPP, (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation), laws require that affidavits be signed by both the Plaintiffs as well as their lawyers, swearing that the litigation they are filing does not impede or attempt to stifle or suppress Free Speech or other first Amendment Rights. The affidavits have to be filed either contemporaneously with the filing of the suit, or an amendment must be filed to the original suit within the first 10 days after filing of the suit.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Currently trying to unpack some issues with this case. It seems there have been at least three related suits filed against Watson, at least one of which has been dropped.

Priority: 

1-High

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Intel v. Hamidi

Date: 

10/07/1998

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi; FACE-Intel

Type of Party: 

Large Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento; California Court of Appeals, 3rd Appellate District; Supreme Court of California

Case Number: 

98AS05067 (trial), C033076 (appellate); S103781 (supreme)

Legal Counsel: 

Karl Olson, Erica Craven (Levy, Ram, Olson & Rossi); William McSwain, Richard Berkman, F. Gregory Lastowka (Dechert)

Publication Medium: 

Email

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)
Injunction Denied
Injunction Issued

Description: 

In October 1998, Intel Corporation sued Ken Hamidi, a former employee, in California state court on claims of trepass to chattels and nuisance. The dispute arose when Hamidi created the Former and Current Employees of Intel ("FACE-Intel") website and began sending mass emails critical of Intel to its employees. Intel asked Hamidi to stop sending the emails and sued him when he refused.

The California trial court granted Intel a preliminary injunction prohibiting Hamidi from sending further emails to Intel employees. During the course of litigation, Intel dropped its nuisance claim and gave up its demand for money damages. It then moved for summary judgment on its trespass to chattels claim, and the trial court granted summary judgment to the company in June 1999. At this point, the court permanently enjoined Hamidi from sending email to Intel addresses.

Hamidi appealed the ruling, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU each submitted amici curiae briefs on his behalf. Nonetheless, in December 2001, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling.

In January 2002, Hamidi petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the case. In June 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' rulings and dismissed the case against Hamidi. It ruled that Intel's trespass to chattels claim failed as a matter of law because Hamidi's emails did not damage or impair Intel's computers. The court indicated that, had the quantity of Hamidi's emails been high enough to damage Intel's systems, trespass to chattels might apply. In this case, however, "the claimed injury [was] located in the disruption or distraction caused to recipients by the contents of the e-mail messages, an injury entirely separate from, and not directly affecting, the possession or value of personal property." Intel Corp. v. Hamidi, 71 P.3d 296, 300-01 (Cal. 2003).

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Case Testing Illinois' New Anti-SLAPP Law Settles Before Court Can Clarify Reach of Citizen Participation Act

In what would have been the first case to test Illinois' newly enacted Citizen Participation Act, which provides immunity for speech related to certain matters of government and public concern, the parties settled before a court could interpret this important addition to the growing list of state anti-SLAPP laws.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Melius v. Keiffer

Date: 

02/01/2006

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

David Keiffer; Thomas Milliner; Maple Area Residents, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Louisiana Civil District Court, Orleans Parish

Case Number: 

2006-1141

Legal Counsel: 

Alicia M. Bendana (Lowe, Stein, Hoffman, Allweiss & Hauver, L.L.P); James R. Logan (Logan & Soileau, L.L.C.); J. Keith Hardie, Jr.,

Publication Medium: 

Print
Verbal
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

In February 2006, David Melius filed a lawsuit against Maple Area Residents, Inc. (MARI), a neighborhood association in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans that had opposed the construction of a new bar Melius wished to build, and two of its board members, David Keiffer and Thomas Milliner. The suit alleges defamation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress based on statements the defendants made on the group’s website, Maple Area Residents, Inc., at city council meetings, in letters to officials, and in an appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Melius claimed, among other things, defamation based on defendants’ statements that he "had received special treatment from the City[,] had made a ‘backroom deal’ with City officials," and "had broken various promises." Melius v. Keiffer, 2008 WL 659582 (La. App. 4 Cir., March 12, 2008).

On August 16, 2006, the Civil District Court, Orleans Parish dismissed the lawsuit pursuant to Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP statute, La. C.C.P. art. 971. On March 12, 2008, the Court of Appeal of Louisiana affirmed the dimissal, finding that the defendants' statements "fall under the purview of protected free speech [regarding a public issue]." Slip Op. at 6.

On March 12, 2008, the Court of Appeal of Lousiana, Fourth Circuit, affirmed the lower court's dismissal.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

TO-DO: Try to locate the initial pleadings through the parish court's website

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Jaeger v. Okon

Date: 

05/11/2007

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Joy Okon; Thomas Okon

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois

Case Number: 

07-L-004940

Legal Counsel: 

Daliah Saper (Saper Law Offices)

Publication Medium: 

Blog
Email

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Retraction Issued
Settled (total)

Description: 

Bloggers Joy and Tom Okon, operators of North Center Neighbors, a blog that covers happenings in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago, were sued by James Jaeger and his development company for defamation. Jaeger's complaint alleges that the Okons defamed him by posting statements on their blog (and sending emails) that implied that he had bribed government officials and engaged in dishonest business practices.

The dispute arose in the context of a controversial development project led by Jaeger's development company in the North Center neighborhood. Tom Okon, voicing his frustration with the development project, organized community opposition to the project and published several posts in May 2007 that were critical of Jaeger. According to Jaeger's amended complaint, Okon made the following false and defamatory statements on the blog:

  • Our meeting with the chamber that we thought would be friendly and amicable turned out to be a sham. Based on prior meetings and statements, I thought we had support from key members of the Chamber. That support now appears to be non—existent. The Chamber seems to have swallowed Jim Jaegers [sic] BS hook line and sinker. I guess the large $3,500 donation he gave them really did the trick.

  • Well it seems [the Chamber of Commerce] only care about how much money and power they have. Perhaps Mr. Jaeger also personally wrote them each a check... who knows for sure...

  • This comes down now to business against residents. The businesses want more density and more people on Irving Park Road so they can line their pockets. They care nothing about our safety or quality of life. They would be happy to see Irving Park Road so crowded you can not even walk down it, as long as those people are waiting in line to patronize the businesses. [...] This developer is one of the worst offender’s [sic] of that practice.

On July 27, 2007, the Okons filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that their statements were matters of opinion protected by the First Amendment and therefore not actionable as defamation. On October 5, 2007, the judge denied the motion to dismiss without explanation and ordered the parties to proceed to discovery.

After a limited period of discovery, the Okons filed a second motion to dismiss under Illinois' newly enacted Citizen Participation Act, which provides immunity for speech related to certain matters of government and public concern. The Act mandates that all discovery should be suspended pending a decision on such a motion and that the movants are entitled to attorney’s fees and costs if they prevail.

While the Okons' motion was pending, the case settled. According to a report in the Chicago Journal, the parties settled sometime in April 2008:

[Tom Okon] said he learned on Saturday that the case had been settled out of court in an agreement reached by both his and Jaeger's attorneys. The details, of course, "are confidential," Okon said. He added, though that "it only cost me $20,000." The original lawsuit, according to the Okons, demanded $100,000 from them.

On April 24, Tom Okon posted an apology on North Center Neighbors, stating in part:

We have never had, and do not now have, any reason to believe that Mr. Jaeger ever made inappropriate payments to any organization, nor that he ever received any favorable treatment from the North Center Chamber of Commerce or any other political entity. We never had, and do not now have, any reason to believe that Mr. Jaeger ever engaged in deceptive or evil behavior.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Higher Balance Institute v. Signs of the Times

Date: 

02/25/2008

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Quantum Future Group, Inc; Quantum Future School; Signs of the Times; Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Oregon

Case Number: 

3:08-cv-00233

Legal Counsel: 

Walter Hansell; Stephen Kaus

Publication Medium: 

Forum

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

On March 13, 2008, Higher Balance Institute (HBI), which markets metaphysical products and education programs, filed a defamation lawsuit against the alternative news website Signs of the Times and its operators, the Quantum Future Group and Laura Knight-Jadczyk. Only Quantum Future Group has been served. HBI claims that employees of the Quantum Future Group posted defamatory statements about it on one of the website's forums. According to the complaint, these statements include allegedly false claims that HBI is a "front for pedophilia," that HBI is "conning the public," that meditation, as sold by HBI is an act of "falling into confluence with a psychopathic reality," and that HBI is a "cointelpro" organization. Cmplt. ¶23. (The Signs of the Times website uses the term "cointelpro" to refer to organizations that it claims perpetuate the ethos of a 1970s FBI counter intelligence program designed to quell domestic dissent.)

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Oregon, contains claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional interference with business relationships and prospective economic advantage. HBI seeks over $4 million in damages and an injunction. On April 25, 2008, Quantum Future Group moved to strike the complaint pursuant to Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute, Or. Rev. Stat. § 31.150.

Update:

4/25/2008 - Quantum Future Group filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted and for lack of personal jurisdiction.

5/19/2008 - Quantum Future School, Signs of the Times, and Knight-Jadezyk filed special motions to strike the complaint under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute and joined Quantum Future Group's motion to strike. 

12/18/2008 - The district court granted the defendants' motions to strike the complaint under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute. The court's decision relied in part on section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

06/18/2009- The court granted in part the defendants' motion for attorney's fees. The court found the request of over $135,000 to be excessive, and so awarded $51,500.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Source: User submission (both Contact form and in a blog comment); Google Blog Search

Status updated on 1/5/2009 (SB)

Updated 6/24/09 AVM - I added information about award of costs. 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Court Awards Perez Hilton Nearly $85,000 in Attorneys Fees in Ronsen Suit

I previously blogged at length about Mario Lavandeira's victory under California's anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16) in the libel lawsuit brought against him by celebrity DJ and Lindsey Lohan pal Samantha Ronsen.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

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