Anti-Slapp Lawsuit Blogs picks up the Michigan Federal Lawsuit Case

Exposure can be a great thing for some and a bigger world of hurt for others and is why I would say prior to ever filing in any court room ask yourself, are you ready for everything and anything to come out about your life? Most of us would say NO right off the bat but for some the warning signs are never enough to deter a bad game of poker.

Who knows how they did it, but the Defendants in this Lawsuit were able to gain presence for this Michigan Federal Lawsuit by adding a “Guest Blog” to one of the ANTI SLAPP movements websites, called the PPP. ( Public Participation Project). One would think at going to such lengths that they must have more evidence on their end than first posted on any Facebook page or maybe it’s just they are 100% committed to their stance on what brought them all together.

Either way I feel this one case has much value to all in the Animal Rescue World and Legal field, time and time again we see different spin off legal cases hitting our court room based around Facebook. However most the cases we have seen have fallen flat on their face one has to ask, it is the incident that occurred, the factually evidence or that the Laws and Laws Firms today have yet not caught up with cyber technology? I feel this is just the beginning to a back log of Facebook legal issues that will be hitting all our courthouses very soon.

To view the PPP website and Quest Blog please click here: http://www.anti-slapp.org/recent/ppp-guest-blog-post-by-yolanda-rios

Or the short version without the comments:

Yolanda Rios
With each passing moment the need for a federal law to stop SLAPP lawsuits grows as innocent people are being robbed of the most fundamental of freedoms, the Freedom of Speech. Laws and court systems that were meant to protect individuals are instead being abused and twisted to the benefit of others. SLAPP Lawsuits, designed to censor, intimidate, and silence individuals while burdening them with cost of legal fees, have grown steadily and are now rampant in our society and there is very little that has been done at the legislative level to stop them. Some states have enacted Anti-SLAPP laws but many still have not. For example, North Carolina does not have an Anti-SLAPP law while Pennsylvania has a very limited one that only applies to those petitioning the government over environmental issues. While the need for such legislation is abundantly clear the average person does not understand how critical this is and the only way for anyone to understand the serious repercussions of a SLAPP lawsuit is to examine cases that have been built around them.

One such case was recently filed in the state of Michigan, to which I am one of several defendants. A Federal case was filed by a group of individuals from various states and the UK (Mary Jo Thomas, Melissa Impens, Seven Star Sanctuary and Rescue, and Penelope Shaw-Ashenhurst) against another group of individuals from various states (Yolanda Rios, Susan Barrett, Pat Lambert, Peter MacQueen, and Andie Cavanaugh) citing slander and libel based on comments made on Facebook and other forums. The plaintiffs claim that defamatory posts were made with respect to their animals rescue efforts and that as a result of those posts they were unable to collect the funds needed to not only continue their rescue efforts but also to pay the various vets they owe money to in the state of North Carolina. Upon reading this initial snippet of information here one would gather the plaintiffs have a valid case but upon further examination of the court document itself and the facts revolving around the case one can clearly see it is not only without merit but by definition is a SLAPP lawsuit. SLAPP Lawsuits are not designed to go to trial or be won, they are designed to chill freedom of speech and press by bankrupting the defendant. They are clearly designed to stifle the voice of public advocates who speak out on controversial issues.

The lawsuit itself is nothing more than 17 pages of ridiculously put together babble, full of cut and pasted comments taken from Facebook and other forums. Upon reading it one would think it was put together by a fifth grade and not an attorney. But even more disturbing is the fact that of 25 allegations being made by the plaintiffs only a handful of the comments listed were actually posted by the defendants; those few comments not being based on assumptions, on lies, or on heresy, but on verifiable facts.
Facts such as:

1. The plaintiffs listed orchestrated and participated in the pulling of mass numbers of animals from a number of shelters in North Carolina such as the Columbus County Animal Shelter. Over 2000 animals were pulled by them from that one shelter alone and to date are unaccounted for. The plaintiffs are not part of any rescue entity or organization even though the lawsuit lists them as part of Seven Star Sanctuary. Kennel cards were obtained for the past year from this shelter that show these individuals pulled animals under another organization’s 501C3. To date these individuals are still participating in these actions.

2. Seven Star Sanctuary is registered in the state of Kentucky only, not in Michigan where this case was filed. The Kentucky location has their 501c3 listed with the IRS but the Michigan location is still not properly licensed with their own state. Not before the lawsuit, during the filing of the lawsuit or even as of last week. In addition all of the events occurred in North Carolina and in cyber space, not in Michigan as is claimed by the plaintiffs.

3. The plaintiffs who claim to all be part of this organization orchestrated and participated in the creation of various chipins for fundraising. These funds were to be used to vet the animals they pulled from shelters yet instead of vetting these animals hundreds were left abandoned in vet offices across North Carolina with outstanding vet bills ranging in the thousands. One of these vets just recently came forward with their story: http://www.wect.com/story/18770752/vet-says-animal-rescue-group-hasnt-paid-18k-owed-for-services

4. Animals that were not abandoned in vet offices were transported across state lines, from areas in the south where Distemper and Parvo are prevalent, with no vetting or health certificates as required by law and not by APHIS licensed transporters. Health Certificate records were obtained from the department of Agriculture in North Carolina for the past year to confirm this fact was indeed true and the plaintiffs openly posted their transport plans on Facebook. More information can be found here: http://www.examiner.com/article/friends-of-animals-warn-rescuers-to-take-proper-precautions-for-disease-control
The rest of the comments, which make up the majority of the lawsuit, were not posted by the defendants but rather by other individuals not named in the lawsuit, such as Shelter Shame, or on others forums, such as Craig’s List. How exactly can anyone be held accountable for comments made by others? As stated previously, further investigation into the case not only reveals how ridiculous it truly is but how it is nothing more than an attempt to silence criticism of questionable rescue tactics and the breaking of multiple state and federal laws. This lawsuit is but one example of many out there. More information about this lawsuit can be obtained here: http://westerndistrictofmichiganlawsuit.webs.com/ and here: http://www.facebook.com/ForThemWeSpeak

Unless one is going thru a SLAPP lawsuit one cannot fully understand the implications or the damage these lawsuits can cause. One cannot comprehend the violation of rights nor the cost to the defendants trying to fight them. One can simply not fathom the danger the public is put in because of those that wish to suppress freedom of speech. Sadly until a federal anti-SLAPP statute is put in place, these meritless lawsuits will continue to not only to consume court resources, but to silence many advocates trying to warn the public.

***
This site provides no legal advice, and no representation is made as to the completeness or accuracy of the information presented. Links to news and commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of PPP.

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Defendants appear to fight back in regards to the Lawsuit

I think we all waited to see how the defendants in this matter would react over time and now it seems they have moved forward to ask for help and are going to fight back.

A recent Facebook page had been added called ” For Them We Speak” along with a plea asking for donations to help them with their current legal bills.

It seems the current legal bill is over $10,000.00 and another $8,000.00 is needed just to defend this group of 5. Not knowing the legal system itself, one has to wonder why is this case still in the court system and racking up bills from what I would say for both sides? It does stop you in your tracks and make you reflect  on why this suit was initial filed doesn’t it? Is this a game of chicken we see playing out before our eyes ? Or is this a lawyers paradise of an endless billing process?  ( click on picture for larger view)

http://www.facebook.com/ForThemWeSpeak

http://wdofmichiganlawsuit112cv00074.chipin.com/mypages/view/id/2d08d49ff9c2aba0

Is using an unlicensed business name to take in donations fraud?

Is it legal or ethical to run under a business name and ask for public donations when you are not who you say you are or licensed under that name? Per the IRS guidelines the answer to that answer would be a big “NO”.  Maybe this is why there is so much outrage between so many in Facebook Animal Rescue. This example goes back to the Michigan Federal Court Case where the plaintiff Penelope Ashenhurt ( you see here) is tweeting for donations from the general public and uses the name CCAC Rescue Team. Penelope Ashenhurst lives in Tonypandy UK and the CCAC Shelter we keep hearing about is in Whiteville, North Carolina, this alone brings questions to my mind on why someone in the UK is asking for donations for a State Bound Animal Shelter.

I also called Columbus County Animal Control Shelter in Whiteville, NC and asked the staff there if Penelope Ashenhurst from the UK was an authorized employee of the shelter, the answer was NO. I then asked if she was indeed CCAC Rescue Team and the answer I received was, Ma’am I don’t know who she is or what she is doing but I get calls about her all the time and I know people give her a lot of money. Other than that I don’t know what to tell you, all these woman run on FaceBook and drive me crazy.

So Penelope Ashenhurst is indeed not CCAC Rescue Team legally, it’s just a business name that she gave herself to use. So what comes of all the money she has collected thru these Chip In’s, Tweets, Powabunga and more? That’s the unanswered question at the moment. Are these funds reported to the IRS or to any State within the US and if so under what name as still today I can not find a CCAC Rescue Team registered in 28 US States.

Maybe it’s time for people to verify if an Animal Rescue Group, Team or Organization is legally registered prior to hitting the send button with Paypal. After all you do want your funds going to the animal in the picture that caught your attention in the first place don’t you?

Lesson here, Buyer Beware.

Proving Fault: Actual Malice and Negligence

Proving Fault: Actual Malice and Negligence

Unlike other countries that hold a publisher liable for everydefamatory statement regardless of what steps he or she took prior topublication, under U.S. law a plaintiff must prove that the defendantwas at fault when she published the defamatory statement. In other words, the plaintiff must prove that the publisher failed to do something she was required to do. Depending on the circumstances, the plaintiff will either need to prove that the defendant acted negligently, if the plaintiff is a private figure, or with actual malice, if the plaintiff is a public figure or official.

Celebrities, politicians, high-ranking or powerful government officials, and others with power in society are generally considered public figures/officials and are required to prove actual malice. Unlike these well-known and powerful individuals, your shy neighbor is likely to be a private figure who is only required to prove negligenceif you publish something defamatory about her. Determining who is a public or private figure is not always easy. In some instances, the categories may overlap. For example, a blogger who is a well-known authority on clinical research involving autism may be considered a public figure for purposes of controversies involving autism, but not for other purposes.

We discuss both of these standards and when they apply in this section.

Actual Malice

In a legal sense, “actual malice” has nothing to do with ill will or disliking someone and wishing him harm. Rather, courts have defined “actual malice” in the defamation context as publishing a statement while either

  • knowing that it is false; or
  • acting with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity.

It should be noted that the actual malice standard focuses on the defendant’s actual state of mind at the time of publication.Unlike the negligence standard discussed later in this section, the actual malice standard is not measured by what a reasonable person would have published or investigated prior to publication. Instead, the plaintiff must produce clear and convincing evidence that the defendant actually knew the information was false or entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication. In making this determination, a court will look for evidence of the defendant’s state of mind at the time of publication and will likely examine the steps he took in researching, editing, and fact checking his work. It is generally not sufficient, however, for a plaintiff to merely show that the defendant didn’t like her, failed to contact her for comment, knew she had denied the information, relied on a single biased source, or failed to correct the statement after publication.

Not surprisingly, this is a very difficult standard for a plaintiff to establish. Indeed, in only a handful of cases over the last decades have plaintiffs been successful in establishing the requisite actual malice to prove defamation.

The actual malice standard applies when a defamatory statement concerns three general categories of individuals: public officials, all-purpose public figures, and limited-purpose public figures. Private figures, which are discussed later in this section, do not need to prove actual malice.

Public Officials

The “public officials” category includes politicians and high-ranking governmental figures, but also extends to government employees who have, or appear to the public to have, substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of government affairs. Courts have interpreted these criteria broadly, extending the public figure classification to civil servants far down the government hierarchy. For example, the supervisor of a county recreational ski center was held to be a “public official” for purposes of defamation law. See Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75 (1966). Some courts have even extended the protection to all individuals engaged in matters of public health, such as hospital staff, given the importance of health issues for the general public. See Hall v. Piedmont Publishing Co., 46 N.C. App. 760, 763 (1980).

In general, if an individual is classified as a public official, defamatory statements relating to any aspects of their lives must meet the actual malice standard of fault for there to beliability. Moreover, even after passage of time or leaving office, public officials must still meet the actual malice standard because the public has a continued interest in the misdeeds of its leaders.

Public Figures

There are two types of “public figures” recognized under defamation law: “all-purpose” public figures and “limited-purpose” public figures.

All-purpose public figures are private individuals who occupy “positions of such persuasive power and influence that they are deemed public figure for all purposes. . . . They invite attention and comment.” Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 345 (1972).  For these individuals, the actual malice standard extends to virtually all aspects of their lives.

This category includes movie stars, elite professional athletes, and the heads of major corporations. Tom Cruise is one; that character actor you recognize instantly but can’t quite name is probably not an all-purpose public figure.

As with public officials, the passage of time does not cause this class of individuals to lose their public figure status as long as the original source of their fame is of continued interest to the public.

Limited-Purpose Public Figures

The second category of public figures is called “limited-purpose” public figures. These are individuals who “have thrust themselves to the forefront of particular controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.” Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (U.S. 1974). They are the individuals who deliberately shape debate on particular public issues, especially those who use the media to influence that debate.

This category also includes individuals who have distinguished themselves in a particular field, making them “public figures” regarding only those specific activities. These limited-purpose public figures are not the Kobe Bryants, who are regarded as all-purpose public figures, but rather the journeymen basketball players of the league.

For limited-purpose public figures, the actual malice standard extends only as far as defamatory statements involve matters related to the topics about which they are considered public figures. To return to our basketball example, the actual malice standard would extend to statements involving the player’s basketball career; however, it would not extend to the details of his marriage.

As regards figures who become prominent through involvement in a current controversy, the law is unfortunately rather murky. In general, emphasis is placed not on whether the controversy is a subject of public interest, but rather:

  • The depth of the person’s participation in the controversy.
  • The amount of freedom he or she has in choosing to engage in the controversy in the first place (e.g., if they were forced into the public light). See Wolston v. Reader’s Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157 (1979).
  • Whether he has taken advantage of the media to advocate his cause. See Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448 (U.S. 1976).

Keeping in mind the difficulty of making the determination of who is a limited-purpose public figure, we’ve collected the following cases which might be helpful. Courts have found the following individuals to be limited-purpose public figures:

  • A retired general who advocated on national security issues. See Secord v. Cockburn, 747 F.Supp. 779 (1990).
  • A scientist who was prominent and outspoken in his opposition to nuclear tests. See Pauling v. Globe-Democrat Publishing Co., 362 F.2d 188 (1966).
  • A nationally-known college football coach accused of fixing a football game.  See Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967).
  • A professional belly dancer for a matter related to her performance. See James v. Gannet Co., 40 N.Y.2d 415 (1976).
  • A Playboy Playmate for purpose of a parody. See Vitale v. National Lampoon, Inc., 449 F. Supp 442 (1978).

Courts have found the following individuals not to be limited-purpose public figures (and therefore private figures):

  • A well-known lawyer and civic leader engaged in a very public trial involving police brutality.  See Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1972).
  • A socialite going through a divorce who both collected press clippings on herself and held press conferences regarding the divorce. See Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448 (U.S. 1976).
  • A Penthouse Pet for purposes of parody.  See Pring v. Penthouse Int’l Ltd., 695 F.2d 438 (1982).

Individuals who are considered to be limited-purpose public figures remain so as long as the public has an “independent” interest in the underlying controversy. Unlike all-purpose public figures, it is relatively easy for a limited-purpose public figure to lose his status if the controversy in which he is involved has been largely forgotten. But most will still maintain their status. For example, a woman who had publicly dated Elvis Presley over a decade earlier, but who had since married and returned to “private” life, was found to remain a public figure for stories related to her relationship with Presley. See Brewer v. Memphis Publishing Co., 626 F.2d. 1238 (5th Cir. 1980).

Evaluating Public Officials, Public Figures, and Limited-Purpose Public Figures

A public official is a person who holds a position of authority in the government and would be of interest to the public even if the controversy in question had not occurred.

  • The actual malice standard extends to statements touching on virtually any aspect of the public official’s life.
  • Even after passage of time or leaving office, public officials must still meet the actual malice standard because the public has a continued interest in the misdeeds of its leaders.

All-purpose public figuresare those whose fame reaches widely and pervasively throughout society.

  • The actual malice standard extends to statements involving virtually any aspect of their private lives.
  • Passage of time does not affect their status as public figures as long as the source of their fame is of continued interest to the public.

A limited-purpose public figureis either:

    1. One who voluntarily becomes a key figure in a particular controversy, or
    2. One who has gained prominence in a particular, limited field, but whose celebrity has not reached an all-encompassing level.
  • The actual malice standard applies only to subject matter related to the controversy in question or to the field in which the individual is prominent, not to the person’s entire life.
  • Passage of time does not affect an individual who has achieved fame through participation in a controversy as long as the public maintains an “independent” interest in the underlying controversy.

See this Chart of Public vs Private Individuals for additional examples.

Defining who is a public figure for purposes of First Amendment protections is a question of federal constitutional law, and therefore the federal courts say on the matter is decisive and binding on state courts. Accordingly, state courts cannot remove public-figure status from those who have been deemed public figures by the federal courts, but states canbroaden the scope of the the classification. For example, while the Supreme Court has not spoken on the status of educators, most states have recognized teachers as a class of public figures. But some states, for example California, have not done so. Consult your State Law: Defamation section for specific guidelines on your jurisdiction.

Negligence Standard and Private Figures

Those who are not classified as public figures are considered private figures. To support a claim for defamation, in most states a private figure need only show negligence by the publisher, a much lower standard than “actual malice.” Some states, however, impose a higher standard on private figures, especially if the statement concerns a matter of public importance. You should review your state’s specific law in the State Law: Defamation section of this guide for more information.

A plaintiff can establish negligence on the part of the defendant by showing that the defendant did not act with a reasonable level of care in publishing the statement at issue. This basically turns on whether the defendant did everything reasonably necessary to determine whether the statement was true, including the steps the defendant took in researching, editing, and fact checking his work. Some factors that the court might consider include:

  • the amount of research undertaken prior to publication;
  • the trustworthiness of sources;
  • attempts to verify questionable statements or solicit opposing views; and
  • whether the defendant followed other good journalistic practices.

While you can’t reduce your legal risks entirely, if you follow good journalistic practices you will greatly reduce the likelihood that you will be found negligent when publishing a defamatory statement. Review the sections in this guide on Practical Tips for Avoiding Liability Associated with Harms to Reputation and Journalism Skills and Principles for helpful suggestions.

Credits: Citizen Media Law Project

Plaintiffs post DNA/DNR on another party

Posted openly for all to see is a DNA/DNR on a Sara Willmott in CT via the CCAC Rescue Team. Now I don’t know who this Sara Willmott is and that’s not even the issue here, what I find more interesting is the content itself.

CCAC Rescue Team just publically slandered and defamed the name of one Sara Willmott yet this is the same group that filed in a Michigan Federal Court for the exact same thing on another set of individuals. ( Ever heard of crying wolf?)

So what’s good for the Goose isn’t good for the Gander, is that how the ole saying goes.

( Click on picture for larger view)

This case is getting very interesting with each day I’m in receipt of multiple of screen shots/ screen captures showing the Plaintiffs in this case for their own handy work. It’s taking me a great deal of time to sort thru all of this information and decide what I should post out. Yet to date I have only been sent 2 emails about the Defendants and those were not even relevant or about this situation.

Note: This page covers information specific to Michigan. For general information concerning defamation, see the Defamation Law section of this guide.

Elements of Defamation

In Michigan, the elements of a defamation claim are:

  1. a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff;
  2. an unprivileged publication to a third party;
  3. fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher; and
  4. either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm (defamation per se) or the existence of actual harm caused by the publication.

These elements of a defamation claim in Michigan are similar to the elements listed in the general Defamation section, with the following exceptions:

Defamation Per Se

Defamation per se exists if the communication is false and imputes a criminal offense or lack of chastity. Unlike in many other states, defamation regarding one’s business or profession is not defamation per se in Michigan. See George v. Senate Democratic Fund, 2005 WL 102717 (Mich. Ct. App. 2005); Pierson v. Ahern, 2005 WL 1685103 (Mich. Ct. App. 2005).

( POWABUNGA ) Who are they, What are they and Where are they?

www.sunbiz.org – Department of State

http://sunbiz.org/…ber=&names_name_seq=&names_name_ind=&names_comp_name=POWABUNGA&names_filing_type=%5B05/23/2012 6:37:54 PM]

Detail by Entity Name

Florida Limited Liability Company

POWABUNGA, LLC

Filing Information   Document Number  L10000065809

FEI/EIN Number   271750764

Date Filed  06/21/2010

State  FL

Status  ACTIVE

Effective Date  06/21/2010

Principal Address

1323 SE 17TH STREET

SUITE 134

FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33316 US

Mailing Address

1323 SE 17TH STREET

SUITE 134

FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33316 US

Registered Agent Name & Address

PRATT, LIZBETH L

1323 SE 17TH STREET

SUITE 134

FORT LAUDERDALE FL 3316 US

Manager/Member Detail

Name & Address

Title MGRM

PRATT, LIZBETH L

1323 SE 17TH STREET

FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33316 US

Title MGRM

RESNICK, CRAIG A

1323 SE 17TH STREET

FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33316 US

Annual Reports

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