Educator Sued Because Of Things A Journalist Wrote Collects $10,000 In Legal Fees From Idiot Plaintiff

from the at-long-last-Rayburn's-Tennessean-nightmare-is-over dept

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.

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Comments on “Educator Sued Because Of Things A Journalist Wrote Collects $10,000 In Legal Fees From Idiot Plaintiff”

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24 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

So, the obvious question:

What did Rayburn actually say to Myers?

From what I can see here, the plaintiff isn’t even mentioned anywhere, and the only reference to anything related to him is Myers’ note that Rayburn’s new cooking school, meant to increase the number of skilled chefs in the region, was replacing the previous cooking school at Nashville Tech (which was incidentally run by the plaintiff, but this wasn’t mentioned).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh, and with this, I’m starting something that I’d love for others to follow: when someone goes to the courts to try and improve their reputation, never mention them by name: mention them as “The Plaintiff” or by the position they held instead. That way, they get no free publicity.

Works even better for political discussion: list the political office, not the person. List the person when they’re doing something personal, of course.

This isn’t to hide an individual’s actions behind their role — if someone is very definitely doing something as an individual, go and list their names (eg, John Doe convicted of rubberduckery while serving as governor of New York) but if John Doe, as governor of New York, opens an investigation into Ernie and Bert over their use of the Rubber Ducky song, refer to him as the Governor of New York. That way, he doesn’t get any extra credit with his base, and the public can start to contact the Governor’s office complaining about such a frivolous investigation.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: [not naming names]

mention them as "The Plaintiff"

That’s silly. We would not have a term for the Streisand Effect had your suggestion been followed.

In general, when someone sues for hurt feelings, they are already sensitive about mentions. Naming the person who did the bad thing and is now unhappy about publicity has a greater deterrent effect.

Here, Loftis sued because someone noticed he was doing a crummy job. Every time someone mentions it, it is in connection with the crummy job he did, his hurt feelings over it, and perhaps also the rather dodgy legal work done by Tom Loftis’ lawyers, W. Gary Blackburn (Tenn Bar #3484) and Bryant Knoll (Tenn Bar #33394) of 213 5th Ave N, Nashville 32219.

It is free publicity of exactly the most appropriate type. This is reporting on the aftermath of the hurt feelings and the lawyers who did not warn the client against bringing such an action. It gives you not only the first item, that Tom Loftis did a crummy job, which we know because of the reported replacement, but also background, that he is excessively sensitive so that you may be better off avoiding him.

My view is that mentions of their names serve a public good, warning about the sort of actions that might be expected from Tom Loftis and legal accument to be expected from W. Gary Blackburn and Bryant Knoll. Mentions as “the plaintiff” would not serve this salutory purpose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

For those new to the site, “blue” and “out_of_the_blue” refer to those arrogant commentors who pay for the privilege of putting their deathless wit in Techdirt’s unique “First Word” and “Last Word”, the highlighting done by hyper-links (hence the name “out of the blue”), usually large and always annoying. You see those only rarely because reviled.

You can see here how maddening those large patches of blue are: drove someone to an outburst, when how could anyone reasonable be upset over an obviously poor defamation case?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That is an interesting interpretation. Completely false, but interesting. Out_of_the_blue was a fairly prolific poster from some time ago. Here is a link to his profile where you can see his comments in 2011. The post announcing first word and last word dates back to 2012. So, either blue was a time traveler and hated that feature before it existed, or you are just posting bullshit.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“easier to bring a lawsuit against the person who uttered the words”

Uhh IIRC the new guy didn’t say a damn thing about who he replaced. The typical bland PR about a new direction blah blah blah…

We need a federal anti-slapp law.
We’ve seen all sorts of abuse of the legal system by bad actors who manage to ‘win’ because they have a bit more cash than the target.

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