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Judge Dumps Stupid Libel Suit Featuring A Man Suing A Third Party For Things A Journalist Said

It only took a month for a court to dump a bogus defamation suit brought by someone who sued one person for things someone else said. Jim Myers wrote an article for The Tennessean discussing changes made to a culinary arts program. The former director of the program -- Thomas Loftis -- didn't like characterizations made in the article. For reasons known only to him and his lawyers, Loftis sued the new director of the culinary arts program, rather than the columnist or the paper that published his article.

The lawsuit is now dead, thanks to a swift, verbal ruling by the presiding judge. Following a couple of complaints and motions to dismiss, attorney Daniel Horowitz has secured a win for his client.

In his verbal ruling from the bench dismissing the lawsuit against Mr. Rayburn, Judge Jones noted that under Tennessee law, an allegedly defamatory statement must “be read as a person of ordinary intelligence would understand it in light of the surrounding circumstances.” Judge Jones also observed that whether a statement is capable of being understood as defamatory “is a question of law to be determined by the court.” Finding that Mr. Loftis’s Complaint could not satisfy these basic standards even at the motion to dismiss stage, Judge Jones dismissed Mr. Loftis’s lawsuit with prejudice and assessed him the costs of the litigation.

The only thing going for Loftis is the swift dismissal, which means he won't be out much in terms of legal fees. Whatever Loftis did end up paying for his own counsel can hardly be considered money well-spent. His lawsuit seemed to be motivated out of professional jealousy, rather than any sincere belief his reputation had been harmed. But that sort of personal issue shouldn't be allowed to make its way into court:

The legal system should not be used to litigate hurt feelings or to deter people from speaking to the media.

Despite multiple rewrites, Loftis' lawsuit never managed to tie the defendant -- the new arts director the Tennessean columnist considered to be a huge improvement over his predecessor -- to any actual defamation, much less any disparaging words that actually came out of the new culinary director's mouth.

The reply motion [PDF] by Rayburn is worth a read, simply because it hammers home just how objectively terrible this lawsuit is. Fortunately, the plaintiff wasn't given much of a chance to annoy the target of his bogus suit and certainly won't be leaving him in a worse financial situation.

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