Court Tosses Cop's Lawsuit Against Social Movement, Twitter Hashtag

from the flipping-the-'fool-for-a-client'-adage dept

If you’re a cop patrolling a demonstration and you get hit by a flying rock, you most likely shrug it off as the hazards of work and set out making an arrest. If you’re one anonymous Baton Rouge cop, you sue ethereal non-entities and someone who did nothing more than speak at the protests where the officer was injured. (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)

We don’t know who this cop is but we do know his lawyer, who had this to say about the recently-tossed lawsuit.

The officer’s attorney, Donna Grodner, said in an email that she was “not at liberty to discuss the case.”

This explains everything. Actually, considering the lawsuit aped one of Larry Klayman’s more… um… inventive litigation escapades, the less said about the tossed suit, the better. In no particular order, AnonCop sued:

1. Activist DeRay Mckesson, who spoke at the Baton Rouge demonstrations.

2. Black Lives Matters — a name used by several concurrent movements to protest police violence against blacks

3. A Twitter hashtag

The suit has been tossed — hard — by a Louisiana federal court. Dismissed with prejudice [PDF], which blocks AnonCop from attempting anything this ridiculous again — at least against these defendants.

The court waves away the allegations against Mckesson as lacking in any evidence the activist was responsible for the rock/concrete that hit the suing officer.

In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Mckesson “le[]d the protest and violence that accompanied the protest.” (Id. at ¶ 3). As support for this contention, Plaintiff pleaded that Mckesson “was in charge of the protests[,] and he was seen and heard giving orders throughout the day and night of the protests.” (Id. at ¶ 17). Further, Plaintiff avers that Mckesson “did nothing to calm the crowd” during the demonstration; rather, Mckesson “incited the violence.” (Id. at ¶ 19). All of these allegations are conclusory in nature, however, and they do not give rise to a plausible claim for relief against Mckesson.

In order to state a claim against Mckesson to hold him liable for the tortious act of another with whom he was associating during the demonstration, Plaintiff would have to allege facts that tend to demonstrate that Mckesson “authorized, directed, or ratified specific tortious activity.” Id. Plaintiff, however, merely states – in a conclusory fashion – that Mckesson “incited the violence” and “g[ave] orders,” (id. at ¶¶ 17, 19), but Plaintiff does not state in his Complaint how Mckesson allegedly incited violence or what orders he allegedly was giving.

Then it gets to the even more ridiculous claims. The judge point out you can’t sue Black Lives Matter because it’s something people align with, not an actual entity representing BLM ideals. It’s a movement participated in by many, but there is no official HQ for BLM all the franchisees report to.

“Black Lives Matter,” as a social movement, cannot be sued, however, in a similar way that a person cannot plausibly sue other social movements such as the Civil Rights movement, the LGBT rights movement, or the Tea Party movement. If he could state a plausible claim for relief, a plaintiff could bring suit against entities associated with those movements, though, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Human Rights Campaign, or Tea Party Patriots, because those entities are “juridical persons” within the meaning of Louisiana law.

Nevertheless, Plaintiff merely has identified “Black Lives Matter” as a Defendant in his Complaint, and that term connotes a social movement that is not a “juridical person” and that lacks the capacity to be sued.

It’s far more blunt about AnonCop’s hashtag defendant, #BlackLivesMatter:

Plaintiff… is attempting to sue a hashtag for damages in tort. For reasons that should be obvious, a hashtag – which is an expression that categorizes or classifies a person’s thought – is not a “juridical person” and therefore lacks the capacity to be sued. See La. Civ. Code art. 24. Amending the Complaint to add “#BlackLivesMatter” as a Defendant in this matter would be futile because such claims “would be subject to dismissal”; a hashtag is patently incapable of being sued.

The officer hoped to amend his lawsuit to include Black Lives Matter, Inc., which he discovered to be the entity on the receiving end of a donation he presumably made in hopes of finding a defendant he could actually sue. The court agrees this might make for a serviceable (in the legal sense of the word) defendant, but says there’s nothing linking the recipient of his investigatory donation to the rock that hit his face.

Plaintiff’s only attempt at characterizing the unidentified tortfeasor as an agent of Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., is located in paragraph 37 of the Proposed Amended Complaint, in which Plaintiff alleges that the tortfeasor was a “member of Defendant Black Lives Matter, under the control and custody of Defendants.” Not only does Plaintiff specifically fail to mention Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., whatsoever, but Plaintiff also fails to allege that such an agency relationship existed between the tortfeasor and “Defendants” with anything more than a “[t]hreadbare recital[] of the elements” of agency, “supported by [a] mere conclusory statement[].” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Further, Plaintiff has failed to plead that Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., in particular, “had knowledge and specifically ratified” the unidentified tortfeasor’s act of throwing a rock at Plaintiff, Claiborne Hardware, 458 U.S. at 930; Plaintiff merely alleges, in a conclusory fashion, that “Black Lives Matter leadership ratified all action taken during the protest,” and that “Black Lives Matter promoted and ratified” the tortious conduct that gave rise to this suit.

If the officer has more money to waste, he can appeal the decision. But the caselaw is rock solid: you can’t sue hashtags, social movements, or people who happened to be in the same city as the person who threw a rock at your head.

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Comments on “Court Tosses Cop's Lawsuit Against Social Movement, Twitter Hashtag”

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22 Comments
Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m not sure that the legal profession has a principle like “First, do no harm.” Much of what they do is dedicated to doing harm.

If at some point they advise the client of the risks of a course of action, they probably see no ethical problem in following the client’s wishes. Just so long as it’s done within the law and by the rules. I doubt that Charles Harder thinks he’s violated any professional responsibility.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: About those laws...

There’s the Minnesota bill that would allow protestors to be sued for the cost of policing their protests.

Or the South Dakota bill, already signed into law, that caps the number of people allowed to gather on public lands at 20. Designed to deal with protests over the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Arizona Senate is working on legislation that would would allow law enforcement officials to go after organizers of any protest that turns violent, even if the violence was caused by a single attendee.

Look around and you’ll find plenty of other examples in other states. These methods are limited only by the imagination of some really awful politicians and the industry lobbyists who own and operate them.

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