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.

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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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February 13, 2020

Horwitz Secures Grant of First-Ever Anti-SLAPP Petition In Tennessee in Lawsuit Regarding Negative Yelp Review

On July 1, 2019, the Tennessee Public Participation Act—Tennessee’s first meaningful anti-SLAPP statute—took effect. The statute dramatically expanded the scope of speech that receives heightened legal protection in Tennessee. It also equips people targeted by Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“SLAPP-suits”) with important tools to secure the dismissal of meritless claims early on in litigation. Perhaps most importantly, the TPPA allows prevailing defendants to get their full attorney’s fees paid by a losing plaintiff if a petition to dismiss is granted. Previously, prevailing defendants were (generally) only able to recover a maximum of $10,000 under Tennessee’s frivolous lawsuit statute, and they were only eligible to do so if a plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Several defendants quickly benefited from the TPPA’s added protections after the statute took effect, resulting in plaintiffs quickly dropping defamation claims or providing additional bases for dismissal in speech-based lawsuits that were ultimately dismissed on other grounds. Today, however, in a ruling by Wilson County General Sessions Judge Barry Tatum, the first-ever petition to dismiss a plaintiff’s claims under the Tennessee Public Participation Act has been granted.

The case arose out of a lawsuit filed by Dr. Kaveer Nandigam and his corporation, Nandigam Neurology, PLC, against Kelly Beavers regarding a negative Yelp review. After Ms. Beavers took her father to see Dr. Nandigam and had a terrible experience, she exercised her First Amendment right to leave a negative review on Yelp!, a popular consumer review website. Dr. Nandigam quickly threatened to sue her if she did not remove the review, and ultimately, he did sue her for defamation and false light invasion of privacy regarding it when she refused.

After Dr. Nandigam dismissed and then refiled his lawsuit against her, Ms. Beavers filed an immediate Petition to Dismiss the Plaintiffs’ claims under the TPPA. Earlier this morning, her petition was granted. Thus, pending a potential appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, all of the Plaintiffs’ claims against her have been dismissed with prejudice.

“This is a huge win for Kelly Beavers and the First Amendment, and it’s a huge loss for Dr. Nandigam and anyone else who would abuse the legal process to promote censorship of honest, critical consumer reviews,” said Daniel Horwitz, a speech defense lawyer who represented Ms. Beavers. Ms. Beavers’ claims for attorney’s fees and sanctions against both Dr. Nandigam and his attorney, Bennett Hirschhorn, remain pending. Daniel Horwitz is a free speech lawyer who represents clients across Tennessee.  If you would like to purchase a consultation from him, you may do using the form below.  

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March 2, 2019

Horwitz Named Among “Best of the Best” Lawyers in Nashville by The Nashville Post

Prestigious Legal List Cites Horwitz’s Landmark Election Litigation Victories, Wins For High Profile Clients

Daniel Horwitz, a constitutional lawyer and impact litigator, has been named to The Nashville Post’s 2019 “Legal in Charge” list, reserved for “the best of the best in the Nashville area.” The honor notes that Horwitz “successfully petitioned to move mayoral election last year” and also “[successfully] represented Community Oversight Now, the group advocating for police oversight board,” in addition to having taken on “multiple other high-profile clients in his relatively young legal career.”

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:

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October 31, 2018

Horwitz Secures Early Release of Calvin Bryant, College Student Who Received 17-year Mandatory Minimum Sentence For First-Time, Non-Violent Drug Offense

Calvin Bryant—a beloved college student and high school football star whose sentence garnered national attention for its purposeless cruelty after he received a 17-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for a first-time, non-violent drug offense—was released from prison on October 31, 2018. Mr. Bryant’s release was made possible after his attorney, Daniel Horwitz, brokered a deal with Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk that enabled him to be released seven years early.

Due to the severity of Tennessee’s Drug Free School Zone Act—an intensely punitive sentencing enhancement that has nothing to do with protecting children, places drug offenses on par with the most severe, violent crimes, and can be applied to virtually every drug transaction that occurs within a Tennessee city—Mr. Bryant received a prison sentence for a low-level drug transaction that was longer than he would have received if he had committed Rape or Second Degree murder. His case attracted widespread calls for reform after it exposed prosecutors’ arbitrary use of the enhancement and its racially disparate application.

“This would not have been possible without a DA sticking his neck out to right this wrong, and without a legion of supporters,” Horwitz told The Tennessean. “This is—and I’m not exaggerating— the most unfair sentence I have ever seen. There is simply no circumstance in which it makes sense to punish a first-time, nonviolent drug offender more harshly than a rapist or a murderer.”

After his release, Bryant immediately re-enrolled at Tennessee State University to finish his degree and established a non-profit organization aimed at curbing youth violence and steering kids away from gangs and drugs. Selected media coverage of Mr. Bryant’s case appears below.

Calvin Bryant poses with his attorney, Daniel Horwitz, following his early release from prison for a first-time, non-violent drug offense.

Selected Media Coverage:

–The Tennessean: Sentenced to 17 years for low-level drug charge, Nashville man gets freedom thanks to deal with prosecutors

–Patch:  Nashville Case Highlights Drug-Free School Zone Reform Efforts

–Reason: How a Drug-Free School Zone Sent a Tennessee College Student to Prison For 17 Years

–Reason: Calvin Bryant Was Serving a Draconian Mandatory Minimum Sentence. Now He’s Free

–Nashville Scene:  Council Members Petition Judge Over Drug-Free School Zone Case

–The Tennessean:  He got 17 years for selling drugs near school. Now 12 Nashville officials are fighting on his behalf

–ScotBlog: Eighth Amendment Challenge Filed Against Tennessee’s “Drug Free School Zone” Law

–Families Against Mandatory Minimums: Calvin Bryant: 17 Years for a First Offense


November 14, 2016

Daniel Horwitz Featured on NPR: “Nashville Man Cleared Of 1995 ‘Homosexual Acts’ Conviction, But Cases Linger For 41 Others”

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.

Read more ››

Posted in: In the News
October 4, 2016

Daniel Horwitz featured in Forbes, Nashville Business Journal, The Tennessean for Groundbreaking Win Against Tennessee Regulators

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 SignalThe 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.

Credit: Jessica Steddom.

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:

Tennessee Regulators Drop Complaint, Won’t Block Beauty App From Operating

Tennessee Wants To Shut Down This Beauty And Health App For Offering ‘Highly Disturbing’ Competition

Regulators withdraw complaint against Nashville-based startups

Tennessee Cosmetology Board Admits it Doesn’t Have Authority To Regulate Tech Companies

How This Nashville Tech Company Challenged a State Regulatory Board and Won

Posted in: In the News