Frivolous Serial Pro Se Litigant Upset Journalists Portrayed Him As A Frivolous Serial Litigant
from the loaded-legal-filing-pressed-directly-to-his-own-temple... dept
It’s extremely difficult to win a defamation suit when the allegedly defamatory statements are THINGS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
It was, on the surface, a bit ironic. A pro se plaintiff who was mentioned in an article about serial filers of lawsuits sued the article’s authors and the newspaper that printed it.
But the New London Day newspaper, reporter Karen Florin, executive editor Timothy Dwyer and Wyatt Kopp, who was interviewed by the newspaper, prevailed when a judge ruled that no one was defamed in an article that focused on the costs incurred by the court system and defendants when low-income plaintiffs whose court fees are waived file dozens of dubious claims.
“After viewing all the revised complaints and evidence in this case, the court cannot identify any statement by Kopp that can be legally construed as defamatory,” wrote New London Superior Court Judge Terence Zemetis, who added that “stating that a lawsuit is frivolous is an expression of opinion and is not defamatory.”
The plaintiff was Sylvester Traylor, a frequent pro se filer whose legal battles (mostly losing) can be found here, as well as other places around the internet. The article at the nominal center of this lawsuit (which was also filed against numerous other parties covering the same proposed bill targeting the abuse of in forma pauperis [waived fees] filing) didn’t make any defamatory statements.
Everything Traylor took offense to was the direct result of Traylor’s own litigious activities. The article simply cites his multiple filings, as well as judges’ reactions to his “protracted legal battles.” It even directly quotes court orders and opinions — which are far more damning than anything posted at the New London Day.
In July 2012, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed one of Traylor’s filings and warned him that “the continued filing of duplicative, vexatious, or frivolous appeals, mandamus petitions or motions may result in sanctions, including a leave-to-file sanction requiring Traylor to obtain permission from this Court prior to filing further submissions in this Court.”
In a November 2012 order dismissing a case Traylor brought against 12 state legislators, court officials and an insurance company, Hartford Superior Court Judge Carl J. Schumann wrote that Traylor’s “litigious ferver is perhaps understandable, but it has clearly reached the point of becoming unnecessarily costly, wasteful and fruitless.”
In true “vexatious litigant” style, Traylor accused the paper of making “selective and calculated statements to slant the characterization of the plaintiff’s legal cases,” claiming its failure to cite the three judgments in his favor was some sort of defamation-by-omission. Even more legally-unsound, Traylor argued that the paper said something it didn’t actually say.
[T]hough the article did paint a picture that Traylor’s lawsuits were “frivolous,” it was clear that it was Kopp—not the newspaper—drawing that conclusion, the judge ruled.
Not that Traylor has anything to worry about. The article he sued over (along with journalists covering the same bill for local TV stations) discussed an attempt to curb serial litigants who “abused” in forma pauperis privileges granted to indigent filers. The first sought greater legal review prior to allowing cases to advance. The latter suggested litigants could work off their comped filing fees by performing community service. Neither bill went anywhere, so Traylor is free to continue filing “frivolous” lawsuits until informed otherwise by presiding judges.
He’s also free to fight speech with speech, which the New London Day allowed him to do by printing his short editorial against proposed limitations to waived-fee filings. It also contacted him for the January article he sued over, posting his defense of his actions. And none of that was enough to prevent Traylor from filing another lawsuit.
The ultimate defense against defamation accusations is the truth. This will probably be lost on Traylor as it’s been lost on far too many serial litigants. If a person wants to complain (via the courtroom) that they’ve been misrepresented by “slanted” statements, they should at least have the self-awareness to recognize it’s their actions that are creating this negative perception.