Notable Cases

 

 

Website Defamation Claim Against Cox Communications In Nevada Dismissed

Wilson v. Web Express LLC (District Court of Nevada. Eighth Judicial District Court Clark County, 2017). Civil Action WL114542. Prevailed on a motion to dismiss in the Nevada District Court arguing that Cox Communications was immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) for passively hosting websites containing information regarding an expunged criminal conviction. CDA 230 holds that online intermediaries that host or republish speech are not legally responsible for what other publishers say or do.

Website Defamation Claim Against Cox Communications In Michigan Dismissed

John Doe v. Perfect Privacy LLC (Michigan 7th Circuit Court, 2017) Case No. 17-108537-CZ. Prevailed on a motion to dismiss in the Michigan Circuit Court arguing that Cox Communications was immune from liability under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) for passively hosting websites containing information regarding an expunged criminal conviction. Court found that all of Plaintiff’s claims against Cox were barred by Section 230 of the CDA and dismissed them with prejudice. 

New Anti-SLAPP statute Used to Win Libel Case Dismissal

Gauthier v. Vaughn (Ga. Superior Court, Forsyth County, 2017). Civil action 16CV-21633. Used amended Georgia anti-SLAPP statute to secure early stage dismissal of libel complaint in which plaintiff alleged that defendant’s notification to insurance company about possible arson in a house fire constituted defamation. 

Veteran's Defamation Claim Dismissed

Ladner v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc. (Ga. State Court, DeKalb County,  2016). Civil Action No. 14A50915-1 Obtained summary judgment for television news station and reporter following a veteran’s claim of defamation and libel after station reported veteran had lied about receiving a Purple Heart.

Defamation Claim Against Newspaper Dismissed 

Wilkerson v. Langston Chapel Middle School, et al. (S.D. Ga. 2016).Obtained dismissal of a libel suit against a community newspaper (Statesboro Herald) by an individual who alleged that the newspaper’s report of her arrest was false and defamatory. 

Assistant DA's Libel Charge Dismissed Following Anti-SLAPP Threat

Ferguson v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc. (Ga. Superior, Fulton County, 2016) Obtained dismissal of a libel lawsuit by a local Assistant District Attorney upon threat of a motion to strike under Georgia’s newly amended anti-SLAPP statute.

Judgment on the Pleadings in COPS Invasion of Privacy Claim

Butler v. Gwinnett County et al., (N.D. Ga. June 3, 2016) No. 1:15-CV-3289 Successfully moved for judgment on the pleadings in favor of the producers of the COPS television show in a defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress claim. 

Anti-SLAPP Defense Ends Libel Threat Against Telemundo

Beltran, et al. v. Korean American Television Broadcasting Group, et al. (Ga. Superior, Gwinnett County, 2016).Defended Telemundo Atlanta in a libel suit arising from the station’s investigative news reports about the plaintiff’s involvement in running an unaccredited school. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the case upon threat of a motion to strike under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute. 

Subpoenas for Broadcast Footage and Materials Quashed 

State v. Spurlock (Ga. Superior Court, Fulton County, 2016).Quashed multiple subpoenas by felony defendant seeking for in camera review raw footage and other newsgathering materials from Fox 5 concerning report about individuals using drones to sneak contraband into prisons.

Request for Broadcast Company's Raw Footage in Serial Murder Case Rejected 

State v. Presley (Ga. Superior Court, Fulton County, 2016) Successfully moved for reconsideration of trial court order requiring in camera review of television production company’s raw footage in high-profile serial killer case. Trial court ultimately ruled in favor of production company, declining to order even in camera review of the material. The ruling for our client followed a hearing in which we showed the defendant had not met his burdens under the Georgia and New York Reporter’s Privilege. 

Free Speech Defense Prompts Disorderly Conduct Case Dismissal

State of Georgia v. Kenneth Ray Chiavone (Ga. State Court, Fayette County, 2015) Case No. 2014SR-0451. Our client was accused of disorderly conduct following a verbal confrontation with his neighbors, who recorded the interaction, which included profanities, on video. Counts Law Group successfully argued that the statements did not  rise to the level of "fighting words" as required by the statute, and the charges were dismissed.

Summary Judgment Granted in Defamation Case Against Radio Hosts

Gabriela Gonzalez-Lamberson v. Davis Broadcasting Company ( Ga. State Court, Gwinnett County, 2015).  Civil Action No. 11C-8425-4. Our clients were two radio program hosts and the station that aired their program, a satirical show that discussed issues particularly relevant to an Hispanic audience. They were sued in a defamation and false light claim brought by the executive director of an agency that has provided essential services to the Mexican consulate in Atlanta and to Mexican nationals in three southern states.  A Gwinnett County State Court Judge granted our early motion for summary judgment and dismissed the claim, finding that the jokes about the Plaintiff were constitutionally protected satire and that the Plaintiff was a limited purpose public figure and could not show actual malice. test

Summary Judgment for Reality TV Performer Sued over Comments on Show

Mickey Wright, Jr. v. Kimberly Michelle Pate, et al.  (Ga. Superior Court. Fulton County, 2015) Civil Action 2012CV225263 A singer and cast member of a reality television show that documents the lives of performers trying to “make it” in the music industry was sued for defamation by her former manager regarding comments that were broadcast on the show about their personal and professional relationship several years before the show began. Counts Law Group represented Ms. Pate and, working with co-counsel, was granted summary judgment after uncovering “tweets” and other evidence supporting Ms. Pate’s account and establishing early on that the plaintiff was a public figure and thus subject to the constitutional “actual malice” standard. 

Anti-SLAPP Defense Leads to Quick Libel Case Dismissal

Nedra Dodds v. Adam Murphy, CBS46, Channel 2 Action News, and Unknown John Does (Ga. Superior Court, Cobb County 2015) Civil Action No. 14-1-5746. An anti-SLAPP defense mounted by the Counts Law Group on behalf of our broadcast clients led to the early dismissal of a physician’s libel claim that investigative television news coverage of the deaths of several of her cosmetic surgery patients was the reason her license was suspended. The trial court agreed with our contention that the news reports met both the “commenting” and “petitioning” speech provisions of the anti-SLAPP statute and dismissed the claim.

County Settles Client’s Free Speech Claim for $100,000

Amy Barnes v. Cobb County et al. (N D. Georgia 2014) Case No. 1:2014cv00948. On Easter Sunday, 2012, Amy Barnes was biking to the store for butter. She became upset at the way police officers were detaining a burglary suspect and yelled an epithet at them. They abandoned the suspect to chase after Ms. Barnes, arrested her and jailed her for nearly 24 hours. Counts Law Group helped secure a dismissal of the criminal charge in State Court and then pursued a free speech claim in federal district court that concluded in 2014 with a $100,000 settlement in favor of Ms. Barnes.

Anti-SLAPP Prompts Dismissal in Claim Against Whistleblower

Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, LLC v. Christopher G. Herman (Ga. State Court, Fulton County, 2014) Civil Action File No. 14EV000671H  Successful use of an anti-SLAPP defense in a libel case involving a whistleblower’s emails led the plaintiffs to voluntarily dismiss their claim against our client. Mr. Herman was a former employee of the plaintiff who reported to federal officials that plaintiffs made it a practice to illegally cut out joint venture partners after securing significant government contracts. Counts Law Group argued that the defendant’s emails to federal officials regarding a $25 million Department of State contract in Uganda were protected under anti-SLAPP, and the trial court emphatically agreed, prompting the dismissal.

Consumer Rights to Post Online Reviews Upheld

Viking Fence Company, LLC v. Charles Denyer and Megan Denyer, Ga. Superior Court, Fulton County, (2014). Civil Action File No. 2014-CV-248699. A fencing contractor acknowledged that his company’s construction on the couple’s property amounted to “a disaster.”  Nevertheless, when they quoted from his letter to them in an online review, the contractor filed an emergency motion for a restraining order to force the couple to remove their review.  Ms. Counts filed a brief citing numerous instances in which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against “prior restraints” on speech and moved to dismiss the contractor’s motion.  The court not only dismissed the contractor’s motion, but also awarded attorney fees to the couple. The contractor continued to pursue the couple for damages in a separate libel claim. By filing a detailed verified answer, defendants were able to obtain a judgment on the pleadings; the trial court agreed that the couple’s review was constitutionally protected opinion and dismissed the libel claim. This aggressive approach saved the clients having to endure the time and expense of discovery.

Client Wins Free Speech Case over Vanity License Plate

Gilbert v. Mikell, Case No. 1:13-cv-00110 (N.D. Ga. 2013) Our client sought prestige license plates but was denied because the Georgia Department of Driver Services had determined the requested tags (ex. 4GAYLIB) were obscene. Counts Law Group and co-counsel filed suit in federal court. In settling our claim, the state paid all the costs of the litigation, changed the rules for vanity license plates to make them less arbitrary and enabled our client to get the tag he wanted. 

 $85,000 Settlement in Section 1983 Claim for Rights Violation 

Kirkendoll v. City of Smyrna et al, Civil Action File No. 1:11-cv-01306-CAP (N.D. Ga 2012). Counts Law group obtained an $85,000 settlement in a First and Fourth Amendment lawsuit for a Smyrna woman who was arrested after saying an expletive at a Town Council question and answer session.

Libel Case Dismissal Based on Wire Service Defense

Counts Law Group won a dismissal of a libel suit based upon the AP Wire Service defense. See Bodana v. Times-Journal, 40 Media L. Rep. 1605, (Ga. Superior Ct., Fulton County, 2012) (obtained a dismissal with prejudice prior to engaging in any discovery based on grounds that plaintiff's claims against FOX 5 were barred by Georgia's public interest privilege and the wire service defense).

Summary Judgment Obtained Without Formal Discovery

Nathaniel Johnson v. FOX 5, (Ga. Super. Ct., Dekalb County, 2011) (obtained a dismissal without prejudice after filing motion for summary judgment on claims against FOX 5 for conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference).

Judgment on the Pleadings in Alleged Sexual Assault Suit 

Zeigler v. Fox Entertainment Group, Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox 5 WAGA (Ga. State Court, DeKalb County, 2010). Case No. 10-A-25424-2. Plaintiff  Karen Zeigler alleged that Ted Murphy, a non-party to the suit, had sexually assaulted her in the basement of the Fox 5 building in 2008. She alleged Murphy was then an employee or agent for the company, but Counts Law Group secured a judgment on the pleadings for the Defendant after showing that Murphy was not an employee or an agent of Fox but an unpaid volunteer for a non-profit that used office space at the Fox station offices. 

Georgia Law Prohibiting Speech about Assisted Suicide Overturned

Caldwell v. State of Georgia (2010) Our client, who suffered from Huntington’s Disease, sought comfort from a right-to-die group. Counts Law Group filed lawsuit on her behalf challenging state statute outlawing people from speaking publicly about assisted suicide. The suit was dismissed after Ga. Supreme Court ruled the Georgia law unconstitutional in 2012.

Voluntary Dismissal after Answer was Filed

Client published an AP Wire story about a local veterinarian who was investigated by the State Board for violations of various health and safety regulations. Plaintiff promptly dismissed the action after detailed verified answer was filed raising anti-SLAPP privilege and the AP wire defense. (Ga. Superior Court, Cobb County, 2010).

Electronic Access to Mug Shots Enabled

Counts Law Group helped a newspaper work with local law enforcement to set up routine and direct electronic access to mug shots and arrest data, saving both parties the time and expense of numerous individual records requests.

$545,000 Sanction for Frivolous Libel Action

Counts Law Group obtained a $545,000 consent order for our client following lengthy frivolous libel litigation. M.S. Koly and Delcath Systems Inc. v. Enney, No. 07-12397 (11th Cir. 2008) (finding that sanctions and attorney's fees were mandated for frivolous libel action). This case has proven to be a significant deterrent to many Plaintiffs, and we have used it to the advantage of many of our clients.

Early Dismissal Under Georgia's Anti-SLAPP Statute

Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1996 to provide an early mechanism for the dismissal of harassing libel litigation. Counts Law Group has been at the forefront of the fight for a broad application of the statute to various types of claims and defendants. For example, we won a full dismissal of a libel and privacy suit against a local television station because of Plaintiff's failure to comply with verification requirements under the anti-SLAPP statute. Boxcar Development Corp. et al. v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc., 2008 WL 1943313 (Ga. Super. Ct., DeKalb County 2008).

Fighting Injunctions as Unlawful Prior Restraints

Some Plaintiffs seek to chill speech by seeking injunctions or temporary restraining orders. Counts Law Group has aggressively fought against these prior restraints. For example, we successfully opposed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and seeking to prevent a television station from broadcasting an audio tape. Blue World Pools Inc. v. New World Communications of Atlanta Inc., 06 CV 13196 (DeKalb Co. Sup. Ct. 2006). More recently, in the heavily publicized Atlanta schools cheating scandal, State of Georgia v. Beverly Hall, et al. (Ga. Superior Court, Fulton County, 2014) Counts law Group became involved during the course of a criminal trial against the former superintendent of Atlanta schools and other school officials. A Counts Law Group broadcast client received an order late Friday afternoon from the court restraining them from broadcasting a story about a threat against a trial witness. What the judge described as “well-written brief” we sent to him over the weekend led him to apologize in court Monday morning for over-stepping, and he immediately lifted the injunction

Fighting Subpoenas Served on the Media

Reporters cannot be compelled to testify or produce their notes unless the strict requirements set forth in Georgia's Reporter's Shield Law are met. Counts Law Group has significant experience asserting the reporter's privilege to fight subpoenas. For example, we successfully quashed Plaintiff's motion to compel disclosure of documents and information that an investigative reporter obtained from an anonymous source. Hendrix v. Highsmith (Ga. Super. Ct., Hall County 2008).

Annamalai v. Randy Travis

(dismissed January 2010 in Sup. Ct. Fulton Co.) (voluntary dismissal of libel case against FOX 5 reporter with prejudice by persuading plaintiff that sanctions and attorney's fees would be mandated under Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute).

Askew v. Ingles & West Ga. Shopper

(dismissed June 2009 in Sup. Ct. Carroll Co.) (Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed in exchange for factual clarification and assurance defendant would not seek attorney fees for frivolous litigation on grounds that Georgia's privilege protected truthful reports of information received from police).

Robinson v. Loewenthal

 

Ga. Superior Court, Cobb County, 2010). Plaintiff filed a libel action against an attorney for statements in a press release the attorney posted online and distributed to the media. Plaintiff dismissed the action five weeks after filing the complaint following receipt of Counts Law Group's notification that the statements at issue were privileged and the lawsuit constituted frivolous libel litigation.

 Annamalai and the Hindu Temple of Georgia

Hindu Temple and Community Center of Georgia v. New World Comm'ns, 1:09-cv-02400 (N.D. Ga. 2009) and Annamalai et al. v. Loganathan et al., 1:09-cv-02401(N.D. Ga. 2009)

Plaintiffs filed two separate federal RICO lawsuits against WAGA FOX 5 and investigative reporter Randy Travisin September 2009 seeking more than $12,000,000 in damages. Plaintiffs alleged a conspiracy between the reporter and law enforcement following the reporter's investigative news series on Plaintiff's activities. Following threats that Counts Law Group would seek attorney's fees and sanctions for frivolous litigation, Plaintiffs dismissed both actions within two weeks of filing.

Godfrey v. Cobb County and New World Commc'ns of Atlanta

File No. 06CV2362-01 (Ga. Superior. Court, Cobb County, 2009):

Based upon Defendant's introduction of undisputed evidence discovered solely by counsel's informal investigation, Counts Law Group won a decisive summary judgment on a former public official's claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and public disclosure of private facts against defendant television news station. Rather than simply deny summary judgment based upon the existence of apparently conflicting facts presented by the parties, the Court determined that the substance of the newscast was objectively true, and therefore, no genuine issue of material fact existed for determination by a jury. Despite finding Plaintiff to be a public figure, the Court notably held that the Plaintiff's evidence would have failed as a matter of law even to establish negligence.

Evans v. Chicago Reader

1:09-CV-0368 (N.D. Ga. 2009) 

Plaintiff, concerned about negative reporting regarding a controversial drug he developed, filed a Complaint seeking over $300,000,000 in damages and moving for a temporary restraining order and injunction seeking removal of the article from the Internet. Plaintiff agreed to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice in March 2009 after Counts Law Group filed its memorandum in opposition to Plaintiff's motion, which aggressively raised First Amendment defenses to the requested prior restraint.

Stewart v. WAGA FOX 5

 

06-CV-13486-1 (Ga. Superior Court, DeKalb County, 2007)

Upon receipt of our anti-SLAPP notice, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed its defamation complaint, which sought damages relating to FOX 5's investigative reporting regarding health conditions occurring at the Plaintiff's eyebrow-waxing business.

OSHA Security, Inc. v. FOX 5

Case No. 06CV2362 (Ga. Superior Court. DeKalb County, 2006)

Following a FOX 5 broadcast of an undercover investigation showing that Plaintiff, a security company, hired convicted felons, Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging defamation. Counts Law Group obtained a voluntary dismissal of the action following Plaintiff's receipt of letter asserting anti-SLAPP defense.

Collins v. Creative Loafing Savannah

(264 Ga. App. 675, Dec. 2003) (Ga. State Ct. Fulton County 2002):

Counts Law Group successfully defeated a former Creative Loafing employee's appeal alleging libel, invasion of privacy (false light and appropriation), and intentional infliction of emotional distress after Creative Loafing allegedly used her likeness to create a cartoon caricature published in conjunction with a cover story on telemarketing practices. Counts Law Group not only obtained a summary judgment from the trial court without the use of discovery, but also successfully defended the former employee's appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Annisman v. Window Media

Case No. 00A73809-1 (Ga. State Court, DeKalb County 2001):

Counts Law Group obtained a summary judgment order dismissing all of Plaintiff Lee Annisman's libel claims without engaging in formal discovery. The claims were based on a newspaper article describing numerous medical malpractice lawsuits filed against Annisman, a doctor who regularly treated HIV patients in the Atlanta area. The Court flatly rejected all of Plaintiff's libel claims, finding that Defendants' newspaper article was not defamatory as a matter of law and noting that "libel by omission" is not a recognized legal theory in Georgia.