The Law Office of Daniel A. Horwitz, Esq.

June 16, 2020

Horwitz Wins Grant of Second-Ever Anti-SLAPP Petition Under the Tennessee Public Participation Act, Secures $26,500.00 Attorney’s Fees and Sanctions Award

The second-ever anti-SLAPP petition filed under the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA)—Tennessee’s new anti-SLAPP statute—has officially been granted, accompanied by the largest fee-shifting award ($26,500.00) ever awarded in a defamation case filed in Tennessee.  The final order—granted by Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Joe P. Binkley—comes on the heels of a February 2020 ruling by Wilson County General Sessions Judge Barry Tatum granting the first-ever petition to dismiss a plaintiff’s claims under the TPPA.

The ruling comes after a bizarre set of circumstances in which a Nashville man, Carl Vonhartman, sued a woman, Kortni Butterton, who had rejected him on a dating app after she called 911, sought an order of protection against him, and testified at the order of protection hearing.  In response to the lawsuit, the woman filed a 361-page, 18-exhibit TPPA Petition to Dismiss all of Mr. Vonhartman’s claims and sought an award of attorney’s fees and sanctions regarding them.  In advance of the scheduled hearing on the petition, Mr. Vonhartman stipulated “that his Complaint failed to state any cognizable claim for relief against the Defendant,” that Ms. Butterton’s TPPA petition should be granted, and that “judgment shall be entered in favor of the Defendant against the Plaintiff in the amount of twenty-six thousand and five hundred dollars ($26,500.00)—inclusive of all available claims for attorney’s fees, discretionary costs, and sanctions—pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-17-107(a), Tennessee Code Annotated § 20- 12-119(c), and Tennessee Code Annotated § 4-21-1003(c).”  A formal notice that the $26,500.00 judgment had been paid and received in full was filed with the court by Daniel A. Horwitz, Ms. Butterton’s attorney, yesterday afternoon.

“Ms. Butterton is pleased to have prevailed spectacularly against this shameful SLAPP-suit and to receive an unprecedented $26,500.00 in attorney’s fees and sanctions from the man who unsuccessfully sued her,” said Horwitz.  “Tennessee’s new anti-SLAPP statute makes bogus lawsuits like this one extremely costly for those who seek to intimidate others through the legal process, so let this outcome serve as a stark warning to anyone else who is thinking about making the same mistake.”

“This case should also send a clear message to anyone who believes they are in danger,” Horwitz added.  “If you believe someone is going to hurt you, do not be afraid to seek help, and do not let fear of a bogus lawsuit deter you from protecting yourself.  Anyone can file a frivolous lawsuit, but in the event that that happens, rest assured that the law will protect you.”

Selected case documents and media coverage of the case appear below.

Selected Case Documents:

Plaintiff’s Complaint

Defendant’s Motion and TPPA Petition to Dismiss and Exhibits A–R

Final Order and Entry of Judgment for Attorney’s Fees, Costs, and Sanctions

Notice of Satisfaction of Judgment

Selected Media Coverage:

-WSMV: Court orders payment in dating app case

-WSMV: Lawsuit filed against woman who requested order of protection

-TechDirt: Anti-SLAPP Law Turns Bogus Defamation Lawsuit Into A $26,500 Legal Bill For The Plaintiff

Daniel Horwitz is a free speech lawyer who represents clients across Tennessee.  If you would like to purchase a consultation from him, you can do using the form below.

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June 13, 2020

Horwitz Client Wins Sixth Circuit Appeal, Upholds District Court Order Dismissing SLAPP-Suit

In the last chapter of year-long saga, the dismissal of Déjà Vu Showgirls’s SLAPP-suit against Linda Schipani—previously dismissed outright for failure to state any cognizable claim for relief—has been unanimously upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Said Daniel Horwitz, Schipani’s attorney:

“Deja Vu has lost the same case so many times it’s difficult to keep up, but the end result is always the same: Complete vindication for Linda Schipani—who will continue to be a successful, respected businesswoman despite the best efforts of her misbehaving neighbor—and a total loss for Déjà Vu, which has become synonymous with frivolous litigation and failure.  Déjà Vu and its contractors should take this resounding loss as a lesson and stop filing baseless SLAPP-suits against their neighbors for exercising their First Amendment rights going forward.”

Déjà Vu Showgirls is a strip club located on Church St. in Nashville.  In an effort to enhance its customer experience, one of the services that Déjà Vu (briefly) provided its customers was valet parking: A service that ticked off its adjacent neighbors when its valet contractor—a company called “The Parking Guys”—trespassed on its neighbors’ property, parked vehicles in neighboring businesses’ parking lots without permission, obstructed road access, and blocked their ingress and egress.  The fact that Déjà Vu carried on its disruptive valet parking operation both without a valid permit to operate and outside of permitted hours didn’t help matters, either, leading to a permanent valet permit for the strip club being denied by city officials.

Unsatisfied that it could not continue to provide valet services to its customers, Déjà Vu and its valet contractor convinced themselves that they had been the victims of an elaborate anti-stripper conspiracy.  Thus, to vindicate their (imaginary) victimization, Déjà Vu and The Parking Guys took to state and federal court, where they sued Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission, Metro Councilman Freddie O’Connell, and two of Déjà Vu’s neighbors—Linda Schipani and Lee Molette—asserting laughably ridiculous claims.  The claims that Déjà Vu and The Parking Guys filed against their neighbors over absolutely immunized testimony that their neighbors had given to the Traffic and Parking Commission, in particular, were legally baseless for approximately half a dozen reasons, and all of them repeatedly failed accordingly.

When the dust settled, Déjà Vu lost essentially the same claims before one Commission and the following five separate courts:

  1. The Davidson County Chancery Court, which denied all claims and held further that: “The Petitioner asserts before this Court that the Councilman and others who spoke against the permit are actually opposing the permits due to the adult nature of the Déjà Vu business, but the administrative record contains no evidence that this is the case, and indeed the record reflects the Petitioner did not raise this concern to the Commission.”
  2. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, which affirmed the Chancery Court’s denial, ordered The Parking Guys to pay Schipani’s appellate costs, and held further that “there was material evidence to support the Commission’s decision, and that its decision was not arbitrary.”
  3. The Tennessee Supreme Court, which kept the Tennessee Court of Appeals’ decision in place and denied any further effort to appeal in state court;
  4. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, which also dismissed all claims alleged due to the Plaintiffs’ failure even to state a legally cognizable claim for relief; and
  5. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which similarly affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of all claims alleged on the basis that—as Mrs. Schipani emphasized in her briefing—“[t]he complaint does not allege membership in a protected class, or that there was any discriminatory animus on account of class membership. . . .  In fact, the complaint contains no indication of any class membership at all.  Plaintiffs therefore failed to state a claim under § 1985 against any of the defendants in their complaint.”

The deadline to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court having expired yesterday, Déjà Vu’s SLAPP-suit and its utterly failed efforts to sue its Councilman and neighbors over testimony that the strip club did not like have officially come to an ignominious end.

Daniel Horwitz is a free speech lawyer who represents clients across Tennessee.  If you would like to purchase a consultation from him, you can do using the form below.

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