from the guess-it's-one-way-to-stay-busy-when-you're-unemployed dept
People keep suing the Southern Poverty Law Center and they just keep losing. More specifically, certain types of people keep suing the SPLC and losing. The type suing most frequently are individuals with bigoted beliefs who aren’t too thrilled the SPLC considers them to be bigots.
The key word is “considers.” The “Hate Map” the SPLC compiles lists individuals and entities the Center considers to be spreaders of hate. It includes litigants like Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and Truth In Action Ministries, the latter of which has made it clear it hates both the sinner and the sin when it comes to anyone veering from the sexual straight and narrow.
The latest lawsuit trying to turn protected opinion into defamation involves a Baltimore city lawyer who claimed it was defamatory for the SPLC to say he had links to white supremacist groups when he had links to white supremacists groups.
The case dates back to 2015 when the SPLC got a tranche of documents from an accountant who worked for alleged white supremacist group National Alliance, according to Wednesday’s ruling.
Among the names published was Glen K. Allen, a contractor in the city of Baltimore’s legal department. The group published a picture of him alongside the words, “When the City of Baltimore recently hired Glen Keith Allen, a neo-Nazi, nobody knew of his involvement with the white supremacist group, except for us.”
An August 2016 article from the SPLC reported on Allen’s ties to National Alliance, including receipts for dues payments, and also claimed that a political party he donated to, the American Eagle Party, was “racist.”
Allen was seeking $6 million for damage to his reputation supposedly caused by the publication of this collection of facts and inferences, which ultimately resulted in him being fired by the city. Oh, and there’s a RICO claim thrown in there for good measure because supposedly SPLC’s purchase of “stolen” documents is evidence of racketeering. (The court points out a single allegedly-criminal act does not show the “pattern” of illegal activity needed to sustain a RICO claim.)
Doesn’t really matter how much this lawyer threw at the wall in his 85-page complaint. Sandwiched between his glowing autobiography and editorializing on the SPLC are some questionable allegations. The court doesn’t appear to be a fan of Allen’s complaint in general according to the first footnote of the opinion [PDF]:
The complaint is 85 pages long, with multiple pages devoted to attacking the fundraising and “enormous headquarters” (“The SPLC uses the word ‘Poverty’ in its name but in reality is fabulously wealthy,”) and describing Allen’s early life, extracurricular activities, and accolades (“[Allen] was a diligent student and did well in law school, finishing near the top of his class and serving as Executive Director of the law review,”). This section summarizes only the relevant parts of Allen’s complaint.
The court isn’t much more impressed with Allen’s legal arguments. Allen’s attempt to bypass First Amendment defenses by attaching a bunch of random, non-speech related torts doesn’t work. As the court points out, clearing the First Amendment bar comes first, prior to any discussion about other allegations stemming from the SLPC’s publication of the leaked files and its corresponding “Hate Map” updates. Allen can’t clear the first hurdle.
As explained below, the August 17, 2016, article and 2016 Hate Map are protected by the First Amendment. First, Allen does not allege the factual statements in them are false. Second, the statements he objects to are non-actionable opinion or hyperbole.
Allen’s complaint doesn’t complain about anything but protected speech.
Allen does not dispute the underlying factual assertions namely, his ties to NA and the American Eagle Party in the article. Allen alleges that the article contained the false implication that he would act unethically in litigation he was. involved in. While the article noted that the “hiring of a known neo-Nazi to litigate [for Baltimore] surely raises questions” it cannot be said that the article implies that Allen would act unethically.
Allen’s other allegations concern statements that are not actionable. He objects to the defendants’ characterization of him as a “well known” neo-Nazi lawyer. Although he argues that the sources the article cites do not support that he is “well known,” it is not clear whether he asserts the statement is false. To the extent he does, that he is “well known” is not a provably false factual connotation. Further, the characterization of the American Eagle Party as “racist” is opinion “that cannot be proven as verifiably true or false” and is not actionable.
And that’s even when the court has considered Allen’s “but I have black friends!” assertions.
In his brief, he argues that the defendants should have included in the article Allen’s pro bono work on behalf of African Americans, as “Neo-Nazis do not do such things, let alone ‘well known neo-Nazi lawyers.’ The SPLC Defendants knew this. But portraying the truth about Allen would undercut the message that the SPLC constantly sends in order to fundraise[.]” These statements do not directly dispute the characterization as false; therefore, to the extent that Allen objects to the “neo-Nazi” label, he has not shown falsity.
[A]llens’ pro bono work does not prove or disprove the documents showing Allen’s payment of dues and donations to National Alliance, which was the basis for the defendants’ characterization of him as a neo-Nazi.
The lawsuit is dismissed. It seems that the best course of action Glen Allen could have taken to avoid being portrayed as a neo-Nazi would have been to not associate with an avowed neo-Nazi organization. That he was outed via exfiltrated documents does not change his connection with neo-Nazis, nor does his pro bono work for African Americans. The best defense against defamation claims is the truth and the SPLC’s portrayal of Allen was based on underlying documents Allen didn’t even attempt to claim were false.
Fortunately for Allen, he won’t be out much for legal fees since he incapably represented himself throughout these proceedings. Truth is fatal to defamation claims, as are statements of opinion, and inferences based on disclosed facts. But Allen moved forward anyway with his DOA lawsuit, with allegations that were never going to be greeted with anything more than a time of death declaration from a judge.