Gun Manufacturer Files Highly Speculative Lawsuit Against Forum Owners For Allegedly Libelous Statements

from the I've-got-plenty-of-hearsay-and-conjecture;-those-are-FORMS-of-evidence dept

COMES NOW... another lawsuit from an aggrieved business targeting negative reviews. There are some cases where this is the correct response, but those cases are far, far fewer than the number of lawsuits actually filed.

This lawsuit, filed by high-end rifle manufacturer Tactical Rifles, Inc. (TRI) apparently targets a negative review given to it by one of the forum members of Snipers Hide, a site dedicated to the coverage (and discussion) of long-range guns.

This is the post indirectly referenced by Orlando Law Group's meandering filing. The poster, Jeff Stevens, apparently ordered a rifle from Tactical Rifles which arrived so screwed up that he had to spend $1,400 to get it back to "working order."

I will let the video tell the rest of the story; it is not pretty. By the time it was done I had about $1,400.00 with parts and labor to make it right. After the work was done I sent the company rep a nasty gram with the link to the video you have here and figured he owed me about $ 900.00 for the machine work that Mark performed. I did not here [sic] a response so I contacted him by phone to get his response and he hung up on me. Ok my friend, that's not a problem, just thought I would get the word out about these guys.
Here's the video, which appears to have been made by Jeff Stevens. For some reason, the lawsuit claims Marc Soulie, who repaired the rifle (and runs Spartan Precision Rifles) made it, but the video description is written in a first-person perspective. ("I had them build me a platform in the below link on a Remington 700 action. I received the rifle and noticed little chips on the stock around the barrel and a few blemishes in certain areas...")

(As a commenter points out below, this video was most likely created by Marc Soulie of Spartan Precision Rifles as he prepared to fix the issues with Jeff Stevens' rifle purchased from TRI.)


This is the "nastygram" fired off by Stevens after shelling out $1,400 to fix a gun that should have been usable out of the box. (Included as Exhibit A in Tactical Rifles' filing.)

This is Jeff Stevens I had you build me a rifle 4 years ago, you know the one that came with the bent scope base and the stock with all the chips. And when I confronted you on it you told me you build shooters not pretty rifles, yea you know me remember. Well funny as it may be that shitty little short trigger you installed on the rifle the one you could not even get a 90 degree trigger finger on and clear the badger bolt knob had to be replaced, I could not deal with it. So I contacted a local builder a real precision rifle builder to install a timmney trigger and guess what we found while we were inside, the link is below.

From what I gather you owe me about $966.56 in a precision rifle you were supposed to supply me in my original purchase. You have 2 days to contact me about the matter and get it resolved and if we can't resolve it I am going to go public with the youtube link and then I am going to post on all the major shooting forums. I am going to start with Snipershide. Frank Galli personally watched the video and he could not believe you call that a precision rifle product. Well Mr Rooney I told you what comes around goes around you know the karma thing, it's here. Two Days.
This "nastygram," coupled with the attached forwarded email from Marc Soulie (stating that he was attaching a final estimate and the above video) are the basis for this bizarre lawsuit, which lists a variety of accusations that can't be easily proven, along with making the claim that Soulie's email somehow suggests he knowingly posted false information about Tactical Rifles. It also uses slander and libel interchangeably and throws in "assault" for good measure.
MARC SOULIE has posted false information on Snipers Hide, Inc.'s website. He admitted that he has done so in the email attached as Exhibit A.

SNIPERS HIDE, LLC. is a Colorado Corporation which runs a web forum where people can comment about rifles.

FRANK GALLI is the owner of SNIPERS HIDE, LLC.

TACTICAL RIFLES' Snipers Hide account was deleted to prevent it from responding to the outrageous lies made on the forum. Attempts to set up a new acct have been denied by FRANK GALLI.

FRANK GALLI also allows companies who provide him free merchandise to maintain multiple screen names for the purpose of slandering any competitor companies like TACTICAL RIFLES, INC. These screen names pretend to be dissatisfied customers of TACTICAL RIFLES, INC. Positive comments are deleted by GALLI and the posters are threatened with expulsion and banning for life if they post anything further about TACTICAL RIFLES, INC. which basically bans free unbiased speech on his forum.
Where to start…

First off, Soulie's email says nothing of the sort. Here's his email in full (included in Exhibit A).
Hi Jeff,

Here is the final estimate and link to video documentation. Right now this link is private. Let me know if you want it to be made public.
At no point does anyone (Soulie or Stevens) even suggest the information being posted is false. This appears to be complete speculation (or wishful thinking) from TRI. From there it wanders off into more allegations that will be very difficult to substantiate. Perhaps TRI is hoping it will be equally hard for the three defendants to prove otherwise. If so, TRI's legal rep seems to have forgotten that the plaintiff bears most of the burden of proof. Unless TRI is sitting on a pile of screenshots that clearly implicate Galli and Snipers Hide, there's nothing in its single exhibit that even comes close to proving that allegation, never mind the entirety of its claims.

Moving on:
Defendant created and published a false video and then made comments on website Snipers Hide.

The postings contain false accusations that are libelous on their face.
Once again, TRI makes no attempt to back up its "fake video" assertions, apparently relying on the court to somehow read into Soulie's words something that's clearly not there. Then TRI goes further, claiming the "false accusations" are so clearly libelous that it doesn't even need to prove they're libelous. Somehow, TRI's legal rep feels the statements are so obviously libelous that she doesn't even need to cite any of them in her filing or even specify which "clearly libelous" posts should be removed.

As for the posts themselves, those that I've come across are presented in a very straightforward manner. They are, however, written in a markedly restrained way that seems to indicate trashing TRI had gotten out of hand at Snipers Hide in the past. If there's something more libelous out there, then presumably TRI has already collected it as evidence. But there's nothing in the filing that indicates it's building this case on anything more than a single (supposedly) damning email and a whole lot of conjecture.

TRI is also seeking an injunction against the defendants to prevent further derogatory posts and demands the removal of current, allegedly libelous posts related to TRI. Again, the filing fails to indicate which posts offend and should be removed, leaving TRI's perception of libel (or slander, as the lawsuit uses interchangeably) to the reader's imagination. The filing also makes tortious interference claims against both Mark Soulie (as a rival gunmaker) and co-defendant Frank Galli (as a "friend" of a rival gunmaker), claiming that they both contributed libelous statements that damaged TRI's business prospects.

What we're left with is something that gives every appearance of legal threats being used to shut down critics, which isn't how the system is supposed to work. The filing goes long on motive and speculation, but provides very little in the way of actual, provable facts -- the very definition of a frivolous lawsuit, one which appears to have been filed solely in hopes of blustering TRI's critics into silence.




Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Arsik Vek (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:19am

    So... how are Florida's anti-SLAPP laws?

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 8:29am

    Talk about shooting yourself in the foot

    Given this is pretty blatantly an attempt to shut down a critic, it would seem to fall under anti-SLAPP laws, and while not all states have them in place, Florida, the state the case if being filed in, does.

    Maybe next time TRI decides to sue someone, they'll choose their lawyer based upon knowledge and skill, rather than how cheap they were to hire.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:23am


    Here's the video, which appears to have been made by Jeff Stevens. For some reason, the lawsuit claims Mark Soulie, who repaired the rifle (and runs Spartan Precision Rifles) made it, but the video description is written in a first-person perspective. ("I had them build me a platform in the below link on a Remington 700 action. I received the rifle and noticed little chips on the stock around the barrel and a few blemishes in certain areas...")


    That video is pretty clearly being made by the gunsmith working on the rifle and not the owner. You will also notice in the video that there is a sticker with the owner's name that has been placed on it to identify who owns it while he has it in his shop. Also the email that he includes indicates that the gunsmith is made the video at the request of the owner to document it for his claims. It was probably just uploaded with the owner's Youtube account so he could add the description.

     

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      Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      I've edited the post to reflect your observations.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:39am

        Re: Re:

        It makes sense too even if he wasn't going to spend all that money to get it fixed properly. If I'd bought something that was so obviously screwed up I'd take it to an expert too and have the expert go through and document exactly what what all was screwed up with it and why. That is common practice. For the company to claim that the gunsmith is just trying to be mean as in an unfairly competitive manner is just bizarre.

         

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    John Barlow, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:30am

    Guess they haven't heard of the Streisand effect

    I would be amazed if TRI was still in business next year.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:40am

      Re: Guess they haven't heard of the Streisand effect

      I've never heard anything good about TRI, here's a reddit thread of complaints from others from months ago. They've always been sue happy.

      http://www.reddit.com/r/guns/comments/1dp9e5/

       

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      greenpuma (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:41am

      Re: Guess they haven't heard of the Streisand effect

      Agreed. It's a small population that would consider spending a few thousand dollars on a rifle and they would absolutely see this as friendly fire. Just ask Cheaper than Dirt or Dick's Sporting Goods how that works out.

       

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      greenpuma (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:42am

      Re: Guess they haven't heard of the Streisand effect

      Agreed. It's a small population that would consider spending a few thousand dollars on a rifle and they would absolutely see this as friendly fire. Just ask Cheaper than Dirt or Dick's Sporting Goods how that works out.

       

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    DannyB (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:34am

    We we need is yet another law!

    Maybe it's time for a law to protect consumer reviews, and sites that host them, from threats by those receiving negative reviews.

    Or more generally, maybe just a national anti-SLAPP law, with a subsection specifically dealing with consumer reviews of commercial products or services.

    Naturally, there would need to be exemptions to cover astroturfing, which should not enjoy protection.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:45am

      Re: We we need is yet another law!

      "Maybe it's time for a law to protect consumer reviews, and sites that host them, from threats by those receiving negative reviews."

      There is: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_230_of_the_Communications_Decency_Act

       

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        DannyB (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 9:24am

        Re: Re: We we need is yet another law!

        Section 230 of the CDA takes care of protecting "sites that host them", but not necessarily the consumers themselves who write reviews.

        Furthermore, the defense from attacks by those who get bad reviews needs to happen earlier in the process before a consumer (or a site invoking CDA S.220) has to spend significant money on legal representation. Like SLAPP laws.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:38am

    Give them all guns and ammo

    Lock them in a room.

    Don't open the door until they're all dead.

    Problem solved.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:42am

    florida you say.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 10:49am

    Wonder how long until the Popehat signal goes up on this one. :)

     

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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:10am

    Has Tactical Weapons lost its mind?

    When I read that the complaint alleges that "Sniper's Hide" forum "bans free unbiased speech on his forum", I couldn't help but laugh. I run, own and operate a website/community message forum that deals with Japanese anime and manga and I can tell you that while I do ban all forms of personal insults and attacks including banning slander and libel commentary, I also have the right to ban anyone on my forums if they are engaging in conduct that either violates forum policy or that the user has offended me in some way.

    "Bans free unbiased speech". LOLS Personal websites are not subject to protected rights as they exist, they are private property. You are only granted those rights that the owner/operator of the website or message forum grants you. Granted, 99% of the message forums are highly respectable and as an administrator of a popular anime community, every user is granted the rights that are afforded as "constitutional" or outlined in human and civil rights laws. But the fact that tactical Weapons is making the complete that a website owner bans free unbiased speech is so laughable that I'm wondering what fantasy world Tactical Weapons lives in.

    Frank Galli, the owner and operator of Sniper's Hide, has the right to determine what he does and doesn't allow on his forums and he doesn't have to follow anyone's definition about what is or isn't "unbiased". From what I hear about tactical Weapons in this Techdirt article, I would ban TRI as well for being so obnoxious about it and creating drama over this issue.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      Freaking forum administration.

      Do you have enough forum admins to cause arguments in the secret admin forums about what to delete and what to keep?

      Good (i freaking hate them) times.

       

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    GMacGuffin (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    Section 230 anyone?

    I guess these lawyer-type folks haven't heard of 47 USC 230(c) ... that 15+ year-old federal statute that immunizes interactive websites from defamation liability for statements by its users. You know, the one that essentially allows social media sites, forums, and comment threads like this one to exist in the first place? That one?

    Anyway, have fun defending that Motion to Dismiss.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:44am

      Re: Section 230 anyone?

      They probably have but just think that the people they are trying to bully either haven't or won't be able to financially withstand the onslaught of bullshit they intend to try to pull. The MPAA knows about Section 230 but when has that ever stopped them from going after hosts?

       

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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Feb 20th, 2014 @ 11:31am

    Proof Positive

    The Amended Complaint referenced above proves that it is in fact possible to stuff 15 pounds of bullshit into a ten pound sack.

     

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    Kronomex, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 2:02pm

    Suddenly negative reviews have become evil and can cause stress and anxiety and almost childish petulance by companies and individuals who then develop "lawsuititis" to try and make this disease go away. What ever happened to accepting the reviews for what they and then resolving the situation by, for example, increasing quality control for starters. Running to your lawyers (who will gleefully...I mean consolingly... pat you on the shoulder while figuring out the size of your wallet) and starting proceedings is truly ludicrous.

     

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    Matthew A. Sawtell, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 3:39pm

    Thanks Tim for the "Now for Something Totally Different"

    Going to be interesting to see what levels of 'Streisand Effect' is going to be reached on this - given the range of websites this may be picked up on.

     

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    Daemon_ZOGG, Feb 20th, 2014 @ 7:02pm

    "This lawsuit, filed by high-end rifle manufacturer Tactical Rifles, Inc. (TRI)"

    Is it wise to threaten a long-range shooter (aka sniper)? I didn't think so. Especially one who's just over $900.00 dollars lighter in the wallet. At this point, I'd have to ask myself, which does he have more of? Dollars or bullets? Either, is generally just as efficient as the other. ;)

     

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    identicon
    scott, May 7th, 2014 @ 5:14pm

    rifle messed up also

    Spent 8500.00 and the gun messed up. They put the wrong scope on my rifle and the scope that was put on is not even level.

     

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