Sued Over Twitter Message? Can You Defame Someone In 140 Characters Or Less?

from the sue-first,-ask-questions-later dept

Tom writes in to alert us that a woman in Chicago has been sued for defamation by the company that manages her apartment over a Twitter message. The message she put on Twitter read:

“Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.”

And, rather than address a concern of one of their residents, the company brought out the lawyers, and sued for over $50,000. A little investigation reveals that the woman had all of 20 followers, which makes you question just how much actual damage was done by this message.

Still, for my money, the best single paragraph/statement about Horizon Group Management has to be the following one, in the Chicago Sun-Times, quoting Jeffrey Michael, speaking for Horizon Group (and a member of the family that runs it):

“We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization,” he said, noting that the company manages 1,500 apartments in Chicago and has a good reputation it wants to preserve.

I’m curious as to how being a “sue first, ask questions later kind of organization” meshes with having “a good reputation it wants to preserve.” I’d argue that (1) suing a tenant of a meaningless tweet (and drawing much more attention to the complaint) and (2) claiming that you’re a “sue first, ask questions later kind of organization” in the national media are going to do a hell of a lot more damage to any “good reputation” (if it existed in the first place) than some random woman with 20 followers bitching about mold in her apartment.

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Companies: horizon group management, twitter

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Comments on “Sued Over Twitter Message? Can You Defame Someone In 140 Characters Or Less?”

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mjb5406 (profile) says:

That pretty much sums it up...

Do we start spelling it Whorizon Group instead? Why on earth would ANY self-respecting company, no matter how sleazy or scummy they were, admit openly that they are a “sue first, ask questions later” kind of company? Speaks volumes for their integrity, doesn’t it? Preerving a good reputation? If they had one before, they sure don’t anymore!

R. Miles (profile) says:

Having just read the Chicago Sun Times article...

I have to say the company is doing more damage to itself (regarding the sue comment) than this girl ever could.

Maybe the folks at Horizon breathed in too much of their own alleged mold, because nothing else explains their stupidity.

Oh, and what’s “marinating” on the Crystal Ball? I thought this word was applicable to meat only.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:


“And, rather than address a concern of one of their residents, the company brought out the lawyers, and sued for over $50,000.”

FORMER resident, actually, but that isn’t really the point. The way the Chicago area justice system handles real estate law is an absolute joke. They are so pro-owner as to make renter’s rights laughable. In fact, in several instances that I’m personally aware of, judges have sided with landlords and property groups OVER clear Illinois law (most commonly with regard to interest payments on security deposits).

“A little investigation reveals that the woman had all of 20 followers”

HAD being the key word. I can assure you she has more now. I could have sworn there was some kind of effect named after this type of thing….

“”We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization,” he said, noting that the company manages 1,500 apartments in Chicago and has a good reputation it wants to preserve.”

Proof that just because you can speak doesn’t mean you can be a spokesman. I have read this quote aloud to several co-workers and none of them have believed it’s an actual quote. “Who would actually SAY that?” they ask.

More to the point, Horizon Group isn’t a BBB accredited business according to the BBB website, although they don’t have all that terrible a rating (B-). Interestingly, they also operate Elmhurst Terrace Apts., which are right down the street from a suburb I lived in for a while, and those buildings were THE place to go if you needed drugs.

Who said high school kids getting drugs from residents of your slum apartments is a bad thing? {Too fearful of a lack of understanding of the privacy policy on TD to post the rest of my joke, so just think it and laugh to yourself)

Doctor Strange says:

This is a clear indication that all defamation law is out of control and needs to be overhauled. Since we cannot deterministically determine whether this is defamation without involving a court, the law is useless and irrevocably broken. Also, as a big supporter of the First Amendment, this sort of law that prohibits free expression like this concerns me greatly.

mjb5406 (profile) says:

It's not like their rents are cheap either!

If you look at their site,, you’ll see that they’re not renting out cheap flats either! $750/month for a studio apartment isn’t peanuts… a 2 BR in the same building goes for an astounding $1,525/month. If I paid that kind of price and saw one little spot of mold, I’d be POd too!

I also have to wonder… just how did this company find the woman’s Tweet? Do they scour the social networking sites to see if anyone complains? If so, sounds like a guilty conscience on Horizon’s part.

pacelegal (user link) says:

Re: How did they find the Tweet?

I don’t know how big this real estate business is or how concerned they are about their reputation, however it isn’t uncommon for very large concerns to practice reputation management companies, using different techniques to monitor for keywords ranging from their personnel to products/services, brand, promotionals as a way of improving public relations and marketing to damage minimisation. Some smaller businesses will just subscribe to some crude tools such as alerts and other mechanisms to track what is being said about their businesses. It is a question of scale I think

Eric says:

Re: Re: Re:

You are absolutely correct, Raven. This woman has a right to tell others how poorly the condition is. Question to all: If this were a defamatory remark, what could the motive possibly be? I think instead, “Horizon” is attempting their best at bullying this woman into submission. NO WAY! I am tired of business owners thinking they “own” us as consumers. If I were an attorney, I would take this case pro-bono-publico, go to the apartment and check to see if it has been “overhauled” recently to try to hide the evidence. More reason to believe the woman. Score:Woman 1, “Horizon” 0!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And the #1 Horizon Realty website result in Google is a DIFFERENT Horizon Realty company in Florida. The SECOND Google result is the Chicago-based Horizon Realty.

So, not knowing who this person is, and what company she’s talking about … doing a blind Google search would actually make the company’s competition in another market with a similar name look worse.

So, there’s no limit to the number of people who may have mistakenly thought that Horizon Realty in Florida supports mold. And 20 people would have gotten it right.

pacelegal (user link) says:

Re: what is substantial publication in Twitter defamation cases

The case of Cairns v Modi 2010 EWCA was a case which looked at the extent of publication, hearing expert testimony and canvassing previous case law as to whether there has been a substantial tort committed in the jurisdiction where the claimant is bringing an action. The expert opinion by the parties differed markedly. The court concluded that there is no arbitrarily limit which can be fixed in determining the extent of readership having reviewed previous case law. It all depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. For example on this occasion the tweet would have likely reached a wider circulation beyond the immediate followers (based on an estimated figure as the probability of followers reading the tweet cannot be proven, despite the defendant testifying they contacted every followers) The Court acknowledged the fact that a tweet can have a wider circulation and distribution through various channels beyond Twitter and in this case took into account that both figures were prominent in their field and the defamatory statement both scandalous and topical. This increased the risk of re-publication of the original alleged defamatory tweet. The expert testimony can be viewed here in my article.

Jeff Molander (user link) says:

here's where it gets interesting...

I think there is more at work here than meets the eye. Horizon is litigious… ok… but if their legal team is smart they’ll use “Twitter math” on this and win. Here’s how in a nutshell:

At the moment, the world values Twitter far beyond it’s actual worth. Twitter is so important that “it will change everything” and so profound that nothing can measure it.

Most digital marketers believe Twitter to be tremendously valuable although they cannot tell you, concretely, why. In fact most of the world believes Twitter’s value (ie. power) to be INFINITE.

That in mind lawyers can leverage this to win and win big.

Twitter’s value perception is kept high by marketer’s disconnection with (denial of?) the way people actually use it. The true value of Twitter, for most of us willing to play along, is endlessly unknown… and it’s best kept that way so far as we’re concerned because that supports the perception of infinite value.

Example: With every additional person you follow on Twitter the average ‘attention value per followed person’ decreases.

Hence, the number of Twitter followers is not a score — it’s a statistic. It’s like ‘minutes used on your phone plan’ or ‘number of claimed dependents.’ Why would a marketer treat it as a score — a measure of social media success?

Perhaps because doing so is based on a decades-old system of valuing what we think is real… think is actually happening with customers. The world of “brand advertising.”

A good lawyer will understand all of this and leverage it. They’ll actually convince a judge quite easily — in this environment — of defamation that doesn’t exist. It’s no different than a social media expert/agency convincing a major brand of advertising value that just plain doesn’t exist (yet merits continual investment).

Candidly, I find the notion to be sickening but Twittermainia is in full swing.

Josh (profile) says:


ArsTechnica has an update.

There was a roof leak in her apartment. She moved out and also sued the apartment company (no further info on what she sued for). The company then somehow ran across her tweet when researching the lawsuit.

The roof leak thing makes it highly unlikely in my eyes that this is defamation in any form. I think she should have her lawyer take a look for SLAPP laws that are applicable to her case.

Deborah Calvert (profile) says:

can't defame Sun Healthcare nursing homes

I have records to back up my claim, therefore cannot be sued for liable:

Horizon and MOLD? Sun Healthcare Group Inc used broken equipment in a nursing home which led to the death of my mother and other’s I’d witnessed, according to their Medical Director, Dr Scott Stoney, who declared so in 2006. Calif State Attorney General even had an existing injunction against them for killing patients while lacking a HVAC system in their Burlingame, Calif facility, yet when they violated this injunction and we notified the Dept of Justice they turned a blind eye. When it killed my mother, the deputy Attorney General Calude Vanderwold apologized to me. So did the CEO of Sun Healthcare through his regional employee Julie Campbell, who heads up their PAC now and told me she was a former girlfriend of his.
What’s worse -mold or death?
This is not rocket science.
Deborah Calvert,
Newport Beach, Calif
former asst to Buzz Aldrin

dthyy says:

Finding tiny morons

I had to take a gigantic dump. It was very difficult to get it out. When It finally came, I took a close look at it. It was the Horizon spokesperson! He was stomping about, all pissed off. He threatened to sue me because I had not kept my inner bowels in a 100% perfectly mold-free condition.

He was the cutest little thing. He had a tiny briefcase full of soiled legal papers and a tiny hat covering his bald head.

It’s true what they say about losing things, (like small morons); their always in the last place you look!

Deborah Calvert (profile) says:

Sued over Twitter message?

Dr Chauncey Hunker, a board member of Sun Healthcare Group Inc out of New Mexico, who operates over 200 nursing homes in the USA, stated in a letter to me that he had no problem with patients living in Sunbridge Newport with a non working HVAC system.
In 2006 their Medical Director, Dr Scott Stoney, declared this was a contributing factor in my mother’s death. Dr Hunker wrote this letter while under a Injunction with Calif State Attorney General’s Office, having killed patients in Burlingame, Calif in 2000 when their HVAC system broke.
This was willful misconduct by a board member and by the CEO. The CEO even sent an employee, Julie Campbell to apologize for SUN for damaging my mother when their b/p equip broke causing her to stroke.
Yet two yrs later I was cheated by them out of compensation for her death, even thought I had this written evidence of their blatant disregard for human life.
Sun Healthcare knew they owed me for my mother’s death and cheated me out of an appropriate compensation. I refused to sign confidentiality agreement and therefore can make these statements.
Beware of their nursing homes, they are slumlords.
Deb Calvert
Newport Beach, Calif

Deborah Calvert (profile) says:

Sun Healthcare Nursing Homes

Sun Healthcare Group practices elder abuse and manslaughter for profit, I will testify because they were responsible for my mother’s death and four others in 2003. The state condemned their HVAC (like living in a 3rd world country here). They had broken suction equip. that caused another patient in his 50’s to die from aspiration pneumonia. Broken thermometers missed my mother’s fevers after having recurring urinary tract infections for ten months because they didn’t staff according to law so there weren’t enough help to change diapers. That mis-use of antibiotics made her more vulnerable to the MRSA she caught from the facility. With their lack of ventilation led her on a downward spiral unable to swallow for the final nine months of her life, repiratory problems, renal failures, lack of nutrition, that was a horror to watch. The CEO of SUN sent his employee Julie Campbell to apologize for him. 2 yrs later I sued Sun, knowing their willful misconduct made me eligible for treble damages. But the powers that be prevented that triple compensation. After major surgery at UCLA to remove a pancreatic tumor that was a miracle I survived, my attorney, apparently working for SUN, Daniel Leipold, rushed me into mediation while still recovering, lied to me about the law, coerced, intimidated and threatened me into signing an agreement for damages based solely on SUN’s fraud. He dropped damages for wrongful death, elder abuse, pain & suffering while I was distracted and ill. Months later when I regained my strength, I sued him for malpractice, he died 2 weeks later. I won that case in 2008.

SUN can’t bar me for telling my story because I refused to sign a confidentialty agreement after mediaiton -after being told by my attorney that SUN’s CEO was on the phone from his Irvine office with attorneys in the other room and that he would cause me bodily harm and ruin my reputation if I forced this case to trial.

SUN cheated the taxpayers of the State of Calif out of millions of dollars in fines the State would have fined for my mother’s death and the four other deaths SUN was responsible for that I witnessed during my limited time there. And according to Claude Vanderwold deputy attrny generall this facility was NOT considered in the fine of $2.5 Million in Sept 2005 against Sun for violating the injunction to date. Amazing.

The Dept of Justice turned a blind eye. The Dept of Health didn’t fine the usual $100,000 for her or any other’s death.
Yet SUN’s own medical director, Dr L Scott Stoney, wrote an opinion SUN responsible for her death and he quit due to SUN’s lack of response.

Yes, I can testify SUN Healthcare Group Inc, of New Mexico, produces profits at the cost of elder abuse and manslaughter.

Does this sound like political corruption? Corporate corruption?

This is not rocket science, Buzz would say.
Deborah Calvert daughter of the late Evelyn Calvert, Newport Beach, California and former assistant to Buzz Aldrin
230 Lille Lane #211
Newport Beach, CA 92663
949 548-2080

see Orange County Calif Superior Court Evelyn Calvert v Sun Healthcare Group Inc et al; Richard Matros v Deborah Calvert; and Calvert vs Daniel Leipold
(CEO requested a restraining order against me for writting SUN (and he as manager) was a slumlord, but Judge Gregory W Jones said NO, she’s not dangerous to him or anyone, he’s the dangerous one, he killed her mother. She did a whole lot less than I would have done, at least she didn’t state that. They are slumlords and she has proven it, certainly she can state it. Freedom of speech, peaceful protest and protected speech. She should file a slapp back lawsuit for his malicious prosecution. And, you just introduced an email she states she doesn’t even know what he looks like, how can I ask her to avoid someone she doesn’t even know? My attorney said they certainly couldn’t expect me to carry around a family pix of the CEO -the man who killed your mother, so you could avoid him!

Deborah Calvert (profile) says:

Attorney Lisa Cross of Fonda & Fraser LLP in Anaheim, California has the evidence that two board members of Sun Healthcare knowingly violated their state injunction with broken equipment and understaffing at Sunbridge Newport in Newport Beach, Calif. making them eligible for termination by the board of directors for five deaths I directly know of. Including my mother, Evelyn Calvert. Then the CEO cheated me for wrongful death when he gave threatening messages in mediation thru my late attorney Daniel Leipold, who died 2 wks after learning I’d retained Andres & Andres to sue for malpractice.

Shake up amongst the board of Sun Healtchare is imminent.

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