Ourway Realty, LLC d/b/a Plainridge Racecourse v. Keen

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.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

06/04/2012

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

Massachusetts

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
The plaintiff owns the Plainridge Racecourse, a harness horse-racing track in Plainville, Massachusetts. Thomas Keen maintains the website "NoPlainvilleRacino" which opposes the development of a gaming facility in Plainville, Massachusetts. On April 20, 2012, Ourway Realty d/b/a Plainridge Racecourse sent a ... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Thomas Keen

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Location of Party: 

  • Massachusetts

Location of Party: 

  • Massachusetts

Legal Counsel: 

Prince Lobel Tye LLP: Jeffrey J. Pyle; American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts: Matthew R. Segal, Sarah Wunsch
Description

The plaintiff owns the Plainridge Racecourse, a harness horse-racing track in Plainville, Massachusetts. Thomas Keen maintains the website "NoPlainvilleRacino" which opposes the development of a gaming facility in Plainville, Massachusetts.

On April 20, 2012, Ourway Realty d/b/a Plainridge Racecourse sent a cease and desist letter to Keen which cited a photograph Keen had posted on his NoPlainvilleRacino website. The picture showed an individual who was suspected of breaking and entering into a building on the Plainville Racecourse. Underneath the picture, another user left a comment that said, "I wonder if they checked the racetrack, lol." The cease and desist letter alleged that Keen's posting was "objectionable, unprofessional and actionable" and stated that Keen posted the photo to "associate the alleged crime" with Plainville Racecourse. The letter demanded that Keen remove the posting, refrain from posting "similar damaging material" in the future. The letter also demanded that Keen issue an apology on his website, Facebook, and the Sun Chronicle newspaper.

On June 4, 2012, Ourway filed a complaint against Thomas Keen in the Superior Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for defamation. The complaint stated that the posting "intimates that criminals are clearly associated with the Plaintiff's present operations," and alleged that because of Keen's posting, Ourway suffered severe economic harm. The plaintiff requested damages, injunctive relief to remove "offensive material" from Keen's website, and an order prohibiting future publication of "information similar in nature."

On July 20, 2012, Keen served a Special Motion to Dismiss on Ourway pursuant to Massachusetts' anti-SLAPP statute, G.L. c. 231, § 59H. Keen's memorandum of law in support of the motion asserted that the comment at issue was removed prior to the commencement of litigation and called the plaintiff's action a "class example" of a SLAPP suit. The memorandum cited Keen's right to petition under Massachusetts' anti-SLAPP statute, saying that Keen's website satisfies at least four of the five forms of right to petition protected under the law:

  1. The site contains a "written or oral statement made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other governmental proceeding" over whether a "slot parlor would be good for Plainville[,]" an issue that the Plainville Board of Selectmen will negotiate with Ourway under the MA gaming statute.
  2. The site is "reasonably likely to enlist public participation" because it encourages "residents to contact selectpersons and ‘tell them a racino is not in Plainville's best interest.'"
  3. The site is "reasonably likely to encourage consideration or review of an issue by a legislative, executive, or judicial body or any other governmental proceeding" because the website elicits readers to contact town officials regarding their stance on the racino.
  4. The site's stance on racino falls under the final definition of § 59H, "any other statement falling within constitutional protection of the right to petition government" as the website was "intended to organize" a community "around an issue of concern."

The memorandum further argued that Ourway could not show by a preponderance of the evidence that the petition caused the plaintiff actual injury or that Keen's right to petition lacked any "reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law." It cited the "lol" from the user's comment, saying that "statements written ‘not for serious effect' are simply not libelous."

Keen also served an affidavit which discussed his opposition to the casino development and his establishment of the NoPlainvilleRacino website. His affidavit detailed the origin of the photograph, which was taken by a webcam of a burglar who broke into Keen's home; that photo was posted by the Plainville Police Department on its Facebook page. An administrator of the No Plainville Racino Facebook page shared the photo on that page, under which a Facebook user posted the comment in question.

On August 17, 2012, Ourway served Keen with an Opposition to Keen's Special Motion to Dismiss. The memo in opposition said that the anti-SLAPP statute was not meant to protect Keen's conduct, as § 59H is not meant to be an "absolute privilege." The memo in opposition uses the example of an "individual [going] onto any website regarding pending legislation and mak[ing] comments or insinuations unassociated with . . . the site, such as baseless accusations of accusing their opponents of a crime or harboring criminals and then hid[ing] behind the statute" as an example of what the statute was not intended to cover.

On September 12, 2012, Keen served a Reply in Support of Special Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to G.L. c. 231 § 59H, saying that Ourway's memo in opposition differed from the complaint's allegations and that Ourway failed to meet its burden of proof.

Keen's anti-SLAPP motion papers, Ourway's opposition, and Keen's reply were filed with the court on September 17, 2012, pursuant to Superior Court Rule 9A, and was docketed by the court on September 19, 2012

On December 13, 2012, the court allowed Keen's Special Motion to Dismiss, finding that the plaintiff's complaint is based on Keen's "petitioning activities" on his website and that Ourway failed to establish that the "petitioning activities were devoid of factual or legal merit." Keen applied for an award of attorneys' fees, and on April 8, 2013, was awarded $24,776.00 in fees and $136.37 in costs.

Ourway initially appealed the court's ruling, but stipulated to dismissal of its appeal on April 30, 2013.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Photo
  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Website

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • SLAPP
  • Free Speech
Court Information & Documents