Havanese Day! Statements on duped dog buyer’s blog not defamatory

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

HavaneseIn Roberts v. Mintz, defendant bought what he believed was a "healthy, nine-month old, purebred Havanese," but what he got was a two-year old dog that was not a purebred Havanese, and was suffering from various health problems. Defendant complained and plaintiffs offered to refund his money in exchange for the dog. Defendant refused. He wanted the refund, but he wanted to keep the dog because he had already incurred $800 in veterinary fees and because he had become fond of the dog, which he named Moose.

One month after buying Moose, defendant began posting about his experience with plaintiffs on his blog. As you probably guessed, the posts were not positive. Eventually, plaintiffs sued in connection with six specific statements defendant made on his blog, which, among other things, accused plaintiffs of being members of a "notorious ring of South Jersey dog grifters," alleged that plaintiffs had been convicted of animal cruelty, claimed that plaintiffs' lived in a "run down farmhouse with 6 children," and described plaintiffs as "despicable human beings" who ran a "fraudulent puppy mill." Defendants also posted that they had heard from others who were "unwittingly scammed" by plaintiffs. Individuals who claimed to be plaintiffs responded to some of the posts in the comments sections of the blog, calling defendant a "liar" and a "jerk," and claiming that he "suffered from 'rage syndrome,' a behavioral condition that afflicts canines."

In lieu of answering plaintiffs' complaint, defendant moved for summary judgment, seeking to have the complaint dismissed. He also served plaintiffs with a frivolous litigation letter. Plaintiffs cross moved for summary judgment and also sought an injunction preventing defendant from defaming them. The trial court granted defendant's motion. It held that plaintiffs were barred from suing in connection with several of the statements because the one-year statute of limitations had expired. In doing so, it rejected plaintiff's claim that the statute of limitations should have been tolled because defendant had committed a continuous tort. The trial court found that the remaining statements were "opinions, epithets, and hyperbole," and were therefore "not sufficiently factual to be actionable."

Defendant then moved for sanctions, and the trial court granted the motion. Although it did no award defendant all of the sanctions he sought, it did award him $25,000 — assessed against both plaintiffs and their counsel — because plaintiffs filed their complaint without sufficient evidentiary support and because several claims were barred by the statute of limitations. 

Both sides then appealed — plaintiffs seeking to reverse the trial court's decision dismissing their complaint, and defendant seeking to reverse the trial court's decision to award him less in sanctions than what he requested

Continue reading “Havanese Day! Statements on duped dog buyer’s blog not defamatory”

Going Once . . . Going Twice . . . Sold! To The Person Who Cannot Remain Anonymous!

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher

While data breaches and cyber security are, unfortunately, regular topics on the nightly news, a New Jersey trial court recently dealt with a much more low-tech privacy issue. In Brennan v. Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the trial court addressed the “intriguing question” (the court’s words, not necessarily mine) of “whether the winning bidders in a public auction have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal information transmitted to a public agency in connection with their participation in [a public] auction.” In other words, if you are the winning bidder at a public auction, must the public entity that held the auction produce documents revealing your identity in response to an OPRA request? In Brennan, the trial court’s answer was a qualified yes.

In Brennan, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office seized baseball memorabilia from an individual who it alleged had illegally sold prescription drugs. The memorabilia was later sold at an auction administered by a third-party that the prosecutor’s office hired to handle the auction. Plaintiff filed an OPRA request seeking, among other things, documents that would reveal the identities of the winning bidders at the auction – registration forms and bid documents that revealed names and phone numbers of the winning bidders. The prosecutor’s office refused to provide this information, claiming that the winning bidders reasonably expected that their identities would not be made public. Plaintiff sued to compel the production of the documents.

Continue reading “Going Once . . . Going Twice . . . Sold! To The Person Who Cannot Remain Anonymous!”

Would You Shop At A Store Called “Red Grass Buy Horn Monopoly”?

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

If you answered yes to this question, please let me know what you were shopping for. 

On Marketplace last night, I heard a story about something land use attorneys deal with all the time — signage.  My suspicion is, however, that they never had to deal with signage like this.  The story, titled "In China, Signs Translated Into English Baffle," dealt with something called "Chinglish," which is what ex-pats call the hybrid of English and Chinese that results when Chinese officials translate Chinese words into English.  (Lest you think that "Chinglish" is some sort of derogatory term, a man is interviewed for the story who is studying for his PhD in "Chinglish" at the University of Heidelberg.)  The curious translations abound as a result of the Chinese government's requirement that all merchants display the names of their stores in English, Chinese, and Tibetan.  As you might expect, the only outfit performing the translations is a government run operation, and they do not appear to be spending much time confirming that nothing is lost in translation.  A few highlights:

  • "Chinese Ethnic Culture Park," which was translated to "Racist Park;"
  • "Beware of Falling," which became "Fall Down Carefully;" and
  • a series of stores called "Veteran Barbecue," "Incense Filled the Street by the Fish," and "Tibetan Technology Supermarket."

(Click here for a slideshow of the signs.)  One store that appears to have gotten it right is "Yak Meat," unless of course it is an electronics boutique.  Incidentally, Red Grass Buy Horn Monopoly was closed, so the reporter couldn't determine what was actually sold in that store.

“They don’t even want to call it ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ no more. Renamed it ‘Clinton.'”

 by:  Peter J. Gallagher

This line comes from one of my favorite movies — State of Grace.  The movie is set in Hell's Kitchen, and the neighborhood is a key part of the story, which involves Sean Penn's character returning to his old neighborhood and reconnecting with his old friend (Gary Oldman) and their existence just outside the law as members of the Westies.  (No need for a spoiler alert since I won't be ruining the end of the movie, but it is a good one.)  I thought about this movie and all of the other movies set in an older, grittier New York when I read an article in the New York Times ("ProCro, SoBro, FiDi, BoCoCa: A Lawmaker Says 'Enough'").  Although my initial thought was that it will be difficult to film a "gritty" movie in New York because of how far the city has come in the past 30 years (think Travis Bickle driving the Cash Cab), the article actually discusses a bill proposed by a city councilman that would punish real-estate agents for inventing new names for old neighborhoods. 

The article notes that the "abbreviation floodgates" opened not too long ago when SoHo first made an appearance in the 1960's and TriBeCa followed in the 1970s.  Critics of more recent attempts at neighborhood re-branding claim that neighborhoods have a history and character that should not be ignored just because realtors think it will be easier to market properties in that neighborhood under a different name (i.e., ProCro, which is is what some realtors now call the borderlands of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights).  Not everyone agrees, however, including Lockhart Steele, the founder of the blog Curbed, who noted: “Neighborhood names and the coining thereof is a quintessentially New York activity that should be encouraged, not discouraged . . . Telling people not to is like telling New Yorkers they can’t have hot dogs in the street.” 

One final note.  Lest you be too quick to hold on to the names of the past, consider the following former neighborhood names and whether you prefer them to the modern iterations — Hell’s Hundred Acres (SoHo), the Gas House District (Stuyvesant Town), and Bloomingdale (the Upper West Side).