There's finally a bit of a happy ending to one of the more ridiculous defamation lawsuits we've covered. In June 2017, the ousted head of a Tennessee culinary arts programs took umbrage to things written about him by a local journalist. The article in The Tennessean expressed pleasure in seeing Tom Loftis removed from the culinary arts program and replaced by Randy Rayburn, who journalist Jim Myers felt was a positional upgrade.
Naturally, the ousted Loftis decided to [checks last 18 months of notes] sue his replacement for things a journalist wrote. Tennessee has no anti-SLAPP law, so the lawsuit managed to drag on for well over a year, including one appeal by Loftis after losing the first round.
The initial court decision should have ended it. The judge found Loftis could not even satisfy the minimal requirements to move it past the first motion to dismiss. The case was dismissed with prejudice and Rayburn awarded legal fees. As Rayburn's lawyer, Daniel Horwitz, pointed out then, the legal system wasn't put in place to "litigate hurt feelings."
Loftis appealed. It went no better at the higher level. After pointing out Loftis' ill-advised decision to sue his replacement rather than the journalist who actually wrote the offending article, the court went on to state that no reasonable person would find the article offensive and that none of it -- no matter who wrote/said it -- even approached the outskirts of Libelville.
The appeals court also elicited this amazing confession from Loftis' legal representation during oral arguments:
Judge Neal McBrayer: “Why isn’t the Tennessean the proper party here?”
Gary Blackburn (Attorney for Mr. Loftis): “Your Honor, there were practical reasons for that . . . . It is easier to bring a lawsuit against the person who uttered the words than against a publication that buys ink by the barrel, as they say, and has lots of resources.“
Translation: we thought it might be easier to intimidate Randy Rayburn than the local news.
At long last, Randy Rayburn is finally getting paid for being jerked around by a year-and-a-half of ridiculous litigation.
Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn was awarded $10,000 for attorney's fees after a defamation lawsuit against him was tossed out.
It is the maximum total amount allowed under the state's frivolous lawsuit law. The cash payout comes after a state appeals court dismissed the suit against Rayburn, calling it "far-fetched" in its reasoning.
This is nice, but a solid anti-SLAPP law would be better. That would have put Loftis on the hook for all of Rayburn's legal fees, rather than limit it to a capped amount. It's better than nothing and it may serve as a deterrent for future would-be litigants who think suing someone into silence is the best response to criticism. Here's Daniel Horwitz's statement on the ruling:
Let this order also serve as a stark warning to anyone else who makes the mistake of trying to threaten or intimidate critics for exercising their First Amendment rights.