In a resounding win for First Amendment freedom and a free press, the defamation lawsuit filed against beloved Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn has been dismissed outright by Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Kelvin Jones. The costs of the lawsuit were also assessed against Plaintiff Tom Loftis, the aggrieved former director of The Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts at Nashville State Community College, who had sued Mr. Rayburn for a whopping $1.5 million over a March 2, 2016 Tennessean article that had reported that the program was turning out unqualified students.
The lawsuit, first reported by the Nashville Business Journal, drew national media coverage due in part to its “extraordinarily innocuous subject matter.” According to one media outlet, the lawsuit’s “attempt to fashion a libel lawsuit out of nothing bears far more resemblance to those filed by plaintiffs with fools for lawyers.” The Plaintiff in the case was represented by Nashville attorneys Gary Blackburn and Bryant Kroll.
In his ruling from the bench dismissing the lawsuit against Mr. Rayburn, Judge Jones noted that under Tennessee law, an allegedly defamatory statement must “be read as a person of ordinary intelligence would understand it in light of the surrounding circumstances.” Judge Jones also observed that whether a statement is capable of being understood as defamatory “is a question of law to be determined by the court.” Finding that Mr. Loftis’s Complaint could not satisfy these standards, Judge Jones dismissed Mr. Loftis’s lawsuit with prejudice and assessed him the costs of the litigation.
Said Daniel Horwitz, Mr. Rayburn’s lead counsel: “We are pleased that this baseless lawsuit has come to a quick and much-deserved end. The legal system should not be used to litigate hurt feelings or to deter people from speaking to the media. We are grateful that Judge Jones dismissed this frivolous lawsuit at its first appearance, and we are thrilled that Mr. Rayburn will be able to recommit his full attention to doing what he loves: running wonderful restaurants, serving his community, and feeding delicious food to his grateful patrons.”
Daniel Horwitz is a First Amendment and speech defense lawyer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Selected case documents and media reports about the case are available below. If you would like to purchase a consultation from Horwitz, you can do so using the following form:
Selected Case Documents:
Selected Media Coverage:
-Nashville Business Journal: Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn faces $1.5 million lawsuit
-Nashville Business Journal: Judge dismisses $1.5M suit against well-known restaurateur
-First Amendment Center’s Newseum Institute: Unusual Defamation Suit Targets Source of Story
In response to a lawsuit filed on March 3, 2017 by attorney Daniel Horwitz on behalf of Plaintiff Dustin Owens—who was issued a citation in early February for displaying what a Metro Nashville Police Officer claimed was “an obscene bumper sticker”—lawyers for the city of Nashville have conceded that “Mr. Owens is correct that the bumper sticker at issue does not fit the criteria of ‘obscene and patently offensive’ as those terms are defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-187 and under relevant First Amendment jurisprudence.” As a result, Metro has agreed to dismiss Mr. Owens’ citation and accept a declaratory judgment that the bumper sticker at issue “is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Under the parties’ settlement agreement, Metro will also pay for the costs of Mr. Owens’ lawsuit.
Said Horwitz, Mr. Owens’ counsel: “The statute under which Mr. Owens was cited is facially unconstitutional. Hard-core censorship of this nature also has no place in a free society. We’re ecstatic about this victory, and we appreciate Metro’s prompt concession that the position taken by Mr. Owens’ arresting officer was nakedly meritless.”
Daniel Horwitz is a First Amendment lawyer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Selected case documents and media reports about the case are available below. If you would like to purchase a consultation from Horwitz, you can do so using the following form:
By TONY GONZALEZ • NOV 14, 2016
More than a decade has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the so-called “sodomy” laws that made it criminal to engage in homosexual sex — and even longer since Tennessee took that step.
Yet traces of those prosecutions linger, with charges logged in court files and subject to background searches. In Nashville, that includes convictions against 41 men from the 1980s and 90s.
Nashville, Tennessee—The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners has officially withdrawn its threatened enforcement action against on-demand beauty services provider Project Belle (“Belle”), green-lighting the company’s business practices and enabling its continued growth throughout the State of Tennessee. Represented by Nashville attorney Daniel Horwitz, Belle responded to the Board’s formal demand that it pay a fine and cease and desist from operating by invoking Belle’s constitutional rights to conduct business free from protectionist governmental interference. The hard-fought victory is featured in Forbes, The Nashville Business Journal, Reason, The Daily Signal, The Tennessean, and other media outlets.
Based on the complaint of a competitor that Belle was introducing “highly disturbing” competition for customers into the market for beauty services, the Board had claimed that the Tennessee Cosmetology Act of 1986 prohibited Belle from facilitating the purchase of cosmetology services in the privacy of a customer’s home. Accordingly, the Board demanded that Belle pay a civil fine, waive its right to judicial review, and cease and desist from operating. Instead, Belle lawyered up and formally contested the Board’s allegations, causing it to “reconsider” its threatened enforcement action. The Board’s decision to permanently withdraw its demand and close the case soon followed.
Photo Credit: Jessica Steddom
“We are extremely pleased that the Board of Cosmetology has withdrawn its unlawful and overzealous threats against Project Belle, whose only crime has ever been to provide eager customers with convenient, premium quality beauty services at competitive prices in the privacy of their own homes,” said Daniel Horwitz, Belle’s attorney. “No government agency should be in the business of preventing popular, innovative businesses from serving willing customers just to protect entrenched industry competitors from competition. We look forward to working with the General Assembly in the coming months to make clear that the Board lacks the authority to deprive healthy, able-bodied consumers of their right to purchase their desired beauty services whenever and wherever they please.”
“The Board has decided to dismiss its complaint and Belle will continue its operations and growth efforts in Nashville,” said Armand Lauzon, Belle’s founder and CEO. “We are delighted by the Board’s decision. It means that beauty professionals who have built businesses with us can continue their success, and our clients can continue enjoying services that many of them desperately need. It also means that economic growth and innovation can continue expanding in Tennessee. We are proud to have helped pave the way on this important issue.”
Read more about the case below:
Constitutional lawyer Daniel A. Horwitz has been appointed to a four-year term on the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
State Advisory Committee members conduct reviews and produce reports and recommendations concerning state and local civil rights issues, including justice, voting, discrimination, housing, and education. By Congressional mandate, the Commission establishes Advisory Committees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Appointees to State Advisory Committees serve renewable four-year terms.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing a federal civil rights enforcement report. For information about the Commission and its State Advisory Committees, please visit http://www.usccr.gov.
The Commission appointed:
Harvard Law School has published Daniel Horwitz’s article: Actually, Padilla Does Apply to Undocumented Defendants, 19 Harv. Latino L. Rev. 1 (2016), in the Spring 2016 edition of the Harvard Latino Law Review. The article, accessible here, argues that the right to the effective assistance of counsel outlined in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), applies to undocumented defendants. Its abstract is as follows:
In Padilla v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court held that non-citizen defendants who plead guilty as a consequence of having received incompetent immigration advice are entitled to withdraw their pleas if they can “convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances.” To date, however, a nearly unanimous line of authority that includes two U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, seven U.S. District Courts, trial and appellate courts in four states, and at least one academic scholar has concluded in some form or fashion that “Padilla applies only to those who were present in the country lawfully at the time of the plea.” Specifically, these authorities have reasoned that because “a guilty plea does not increase the risk of deportation” for undocumented defendants, “in a situation where a defendant seeks to withdraw a plea based on Padilla, and alleges lack of knowledge of the risk of deportation, prejudice cannot be established[.]” In other words, these authorities conclude, regardless of either the breadth or the magnitude of their counsel’s incompetent immigration advice, undocumented defendants are never entitled to relief under Padilla because they are categorically incapable of satisfying Padilla’s “prejudice” prong.
These contrary authorities notwithstanding, however, this Article argues that Padilla does apply to undocumented defendants. Four reasons are offered to support this view. First, the contrary conclusion neglects the legal and practical reality that a guilty plea frequently does increase the risk of deportation for undocumented defendants. Second, regardless of the fact that there are myriad situations in which a guilty plea can cause an undocumented defendant to be deported who otherwise would not have been, the test for prejudice under Padilla is not whether a non-citizen defendant would have been deported anyway; instead, the applicable test is whether “a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances.” Third, the contention that Padilla does not protect undocumented defendants undermines the underlying purpose of the right to effective assistance of counsel itself: to prevent inaccurate convictions. Fourth, Padilla held without equivocation that: “It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant — whether a citizen or not — is left to the ‘mercies of incompetent counsel,’” and because this holding expressly includes undocumented defendants, lower courts lack the authority to ignore it.
Taken together, this Article concludes that future courts should reject the prevailing view that Padilla does not apply to undocumented defendants and should hold instead that undocumented defendants’ Padilla claims must be carefully reviewed for prejudice on a case-by-case basis.
Nashville attorney Daniel Horwitz, left, and Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry talk after a hearing where Horwitz presented a case for the mass expungement of 350,000 cases involving 128,000 people. (Photo: Shelley Mays / The Tennessean)
Nashville, Tennessee—More than one hundred thousand (100,000) Nashville residents may soon benefit from a groundbreaking class action motion that was filed in Davidson County General Sessions Court on Tuesday. The motion – filed by Nashville Attorney Daniel A. Horwitz – was supported by Glenn Funk, the Davidson County District Attorney, and Howard Gentry, the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk. It is the first of its kind in the country.
Tennessee law generaly provides that anyone whose case does not result in a conviction is entitled to have his or her records expunged free of charge if they file a petition for expungement with the Clerk’s office. Because many people cannot afford to take a day off of work or assume that their records are expunged automatically, however, thousands of people who have records that could be expunged end up falling through the cracks every year without filing the necessary paperwork. If granted, the motion filed on Tuesday would give the Clerk’s office the legal authority to begin clearing the backlog automatically.
On September 3rd, Judge Rachel L. Bell called an inter-agency meeting of the ten government agencies involved in processing expungements (the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Criminal Court Clerk, General Sessions Court staff, the TBI, the TDOC, the AOC, the Metro Police Department, the Davidson County Sheriff, and Metro Legal). After several agencies expressed concerns about the cost of processing additional expungements, the cost burden that would result from a class expungement was taken into consideration. “I am committed to ensuring that no agency will be burdened by this proposal,” said Judge Bell. “Knowing that every agency is underfunded with respect to processing expungements, I will propose a graduated implementation schedule to guarantee that no undue burden is placed on any agency involved. I am also committed to ensuring that expungements are processed more quickly. I am excited about this proposal because of the many ways that expungements benefit the public.”
Following a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Rachel L. Bell, Davidson County General Sessions Court Presiding Judge, took Horwitz’s motion under advisement. According to an affidavit filed by the Criminal Court Clerk’s office, the proposal would benefit 128,000 people and apply to 350,000 separate cases that were either not prosecuted due to lack of evidence or were dismissed between the years 2000 and 2012. Only cases that took place in Davidson County General Sessions Court that did not result in a conviction would be affected.
“Nashville is blessed to have public servants like Glenn Funk, Howard Gentry and Rachel L. Bell who care deeply about the community and who are committed to finding innovative ways to serve the public,” said Horwitz, who will be serving as lead class counsel alongside James P. Danly of the D.C. law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “I am honored and humbled to be a part of an effort that will help more than 100,000 individuals who were never convicted of any crime clear their records and gain access to employment. The law should be a force that improves the lives of all people. I am overjoyed that in this case, it finally will be.”
“Consequences for criminal activity should be reserved for those who are guilty,” said District Attorney Glenn Funk.
Several elected officials serving in both the Tennessee General Assembly and the Metro Council have pledged their support for the effort and have already promised to fund it. “Justice demands this momentous undertaking that will remove an undue stain on individual’s records and help ensure their equal opportunity to employment,” said State Representative John Ray Clemmons.
“When a system has such a huge number of people caught in the backlog, it’s time to re-examine the system,” said Metro Council Member Fabian Bedne. “People who have not yet had their records expunged can’t fully contribute to society. Additionally, at a time when Nashville is enjoying unprecedented growth, we need to do what we can to maintain high levels of employment in order to lower costs and tame inflation. This is the right thing to do from both a human and a business perspective.”
Added Metro Council Member Freddie O’Connell: “This is a perfect example of a situation where what seems like a simple bureaucratic measure can have a lasting negative impact on the life of someone who has had an encounter with the justice system. The impact of this simple effort should offer some additional procedural justice to a number of Nashvillians, and I’m glad to see it being supported by the administrators of our justice system.”
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UPDATE (February 3, 2016): An agreement has been reached in Horwitz’s class expungement lawsuit. Nashvillians shall now have the right to file expungements offsite by mail. Information regarding this right is now available at the Criminal Court Clerk’s website here.