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.