The Law Office of Daniel A. Horwitz, Esq.

September 15, 2020

Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Rules in Favor of School Board Members, Invalidates Censorship Clause in Ex-MNPS Director Shawn Joseph’s Severance Agreement

In an order issued earlier this afternoon, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled in favor of Plaintiffs Amy Frogge, Fran Bush, and Jill Speering, who earlier this year sued Metro and ex-MNPS Director Shawn Joseph over the legality of the School Board censorship clause contained in Joseph’s severance agreement.  In a Memorandum Order, Chancellor Lyle struck down the censorship clause as unconstitutional on multiple grounds and permanently enjoined its enforcement.

Among other things, the clause prohibited elected School Board members even from truthfully criticizing “Dr. Joseph and his performance as Director of Schools.”  Upon review of it, Chancellor Lyle ruled that the clause violated the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, unlawfully prohibited them from speaking honestly with their constituents, and violated established Tennessee public policy.  As a result, the clause was invalidated as unenforceable.  Metro and Joseph will additionally be required to pay the Plaintiffs’ “reasonable costs and attorney’s fees,” which have been pledged to charity.

“This is a landmark victory on behalf of both elected officials’ free speech rights and citizens’ right to hear from their elected representatives,” said attorney Daniel Horwitz, who represented all three Plaintiffs.  “Metro and Joseph should be ashamed of their efforts to gag elected officials and prevent them from speaking honestly with their constituents about issues of tremendous public importance, and their illegal attempt to do so should serve as a costly warning to other government officials to think twice before violating the First Amendment.”

Daniel Horwitz is a First Amendment 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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September 11, 2020

Horwitz Wins Lawsuit Striking Down Politician-Favoring Criminal Defamation Law, Secures $69,882.37 Fee Award

In a resounding win for free speech, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has issued an order striking down Tennessee’s criminal defamation law prohibiting false “campaign literature in opposition to any candidate in any election.”  Finding that the law represented an unlawful content-based, viewpoint-based, and identity-based speech restriction that could not withstand scrutiny under the First Amendment or the Tennessee Constitution, Chancellor Lyle invalidated the law as unconstitutional.

“Tennesseans have a constitutional right to mock and satirize politicians, and candidates for office cannot lawfully use the threat of a criminal prosecution to inhibit criticism,” Horwitz said in a statement to The Tennessean. “Tennesseans For Sensible Election Laws is proud to have won this important case and made Tennessee’s democratic process freer once again.”

Along with the win, in an order entered on September 11, 2020, Horwitz additionally secured a final judgment “awarding Plaintiff recovery of $69,882.37 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.

Daniel Horwitz is a free speech and election 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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August 19, 2020

Horwitz Wins Election Law and First Amendment Appeal Striking Down Discriminatory Campaign Finance Statutes, Secures $50,218.49 Fee Award

In a unanimous panel opinion, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has affirmed a ruling by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle that two of Tennessee’s campaign finance statutes unlawfully discriminate against non-partisan speakers and violate the First Amendment.  As a result, the trial win by Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws—represented by First Amendment attorney Daniel A. Horwitz—was “affirmed in all respects and remanded for further proceedings.”  Upon remand, Horwitz’s client was awarded $50,218.49 in attorney’s fees, costs, and interest.  A formal notice that the judgment had been paid and received in full was filed with the court on August 19, 2020.

“Political parties cannot lawfully censor non-partisan speakers while reserving special treatment in the political process for themselves,” Horwitz wrote in a statement to The Tennessean. “Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws is proud of this historic First Amendment victory, which makes Tennessee’s democratic process just a little bit freer for everyone.”

Daniel Horwitz is a free speech and election 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 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.

Consultation Payment Form

Payment for: 30-Minute Consultation

Amount: $200.00

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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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May 20, 2019

White County, Tennessee Inmate Sterilization Program Terminated By Historic Order

Federal court orders that controversial sterilization program be rescinded; White County officials to pay Plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, permanently enjoined from making or enforcing any sentencing determination that is based “in whole or in part upon a defendant’s consent—or refusal to consent—to becoming permanently or temporarily sterilized.”

Following an historic reversal at the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last month, an inmate sterilization program instituted by two White County, Tennessee officials has finally come to an end.  The landmark order comes nearly two years after a trio of inmates at the White County jail filed suit against White County General Sessions Court Judge Sam Benningfield—the architect of the program—and the White County Sheriff’s Office, alleging that the program violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses.

A consent decree approved by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee earlier today formally terminates the controversial inmate sterilization program, compelling Judge Benningfield to rescind each of his standing orders regarding the program “in their entirety,” effective immediately.  The Court’s order also permanently enjoins both Judge Benningfield and the White County Sheriff’s Office “from making or enforcing any sentencing determination that is based in whole or in part upon a defendant’s consent—or refusal to consent—to becoming permanently or temporarily sterilized” at any point in the future.  Judge Benningfield and the White County Sheriff were further ordered to pay the costs of the lawsuit and the plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees, which the order provides “shall be donated by Plaintiffs’ counsel to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Tuskegee History Center.”  Each of the three inmates who sued after refusing to become sterilized also received a 30-day sentencing credit toward a future expungement.

“Inmate sterilization is despicable, it is morally indefensible, and it is illegal,” said Daniel Horwitz, a Nashville-based constitutional lawyer who represented the inmates. “Let this historic order serve as a warning: Whether you are a sitting Judge, a Sheriff who is ‘just following orders,’ or any other government official, if you violate the Constitution, you will be held accountable.”

The Consent Decree and Final Order approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and additional case documents and media coverage regarding the program appear below.

Consent Decree and Final Order

6th Circuit Opinion Reversing District Court

Plaintiffs’ Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief

Plaintiffs’ Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment

6th Circuit Brief of Plaintiffs-Appellants

Selected Media Coverage:

-The Tennessean: Federal court order officially ends Tennessee ‘inmate sterilization’ program

-Vice: A Tennessee County Wanted to Sterilize Inmates for Shorter Sentences. That’s Over Now.

-Fox 17: Tennessee inmates win suit against judge who offered sentencing credits for sterilization

-IFL: Federal Court Ends Tennessee’s Controversial Inmate Sterilization Program

-News Channel 5: White County Inmate Sterilization Program terminated by federal ruling

-The Tennessean: Court revives lawsuit against judge who shortened jail time if inmates got ‘sterilized’

Daniel Horwitz is constitutional lawyer based in Nashville, Tennessee.  If you would like to purchase a consultation from Horwitz, you can do so using the following form:

Consultation Payment Form

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