May 23, 2024

TLo secures dismissal of defamation lawsuit with prejudice, citing Florida’s litigation privilege

Agreeing with arguments from Thomas & LoCicero, a federal judge dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit asserting defamation claims against two law firms over statements they made in a separate case.  As the Court explained, “protecting these statements from liability is necessary to safeguard the truth-seeking function of the adversarial system.”

The defamation claims arose from a 2022 class action lawsuit that the two law firms, Project on Predatory Student Lending, Inc. (“PPSL”) and Mayer Law PLLC, filed against a for-profit nursing school, Health Care Institute LLC (“HCI”).  The pleadings in the class action case included several references to Tuition Options, LLC, a company that services loans at HCI and other schools.

Tuition Options claimed that statements in the class action pleadings amounted to defamation, defamation per se, or defamation by implication.  Additionally, Tuition Options objected to the availability of copies of the class action pleadings on PPSL’s website.   

TLo lawyers argued from the outset that Florida’s litigation privilege prohibits defamation claims based upon statements in pleadings.  District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks first stayed discovery in the case as TLo requested and then concluded that the litigation privilege barred the lawsuit entirely. Quoting a Florida Supreme Court opinion, Judge Middlebrooks explained that “defamatory statements made in the course of judicial proceedings are absolutely privileged, and no cause of action for damages will lie, regardless of how false or malicious the statements might be, so long as the statements are relevant to the subject of inquiry.”  Judge Middlebrooks easily concluded that the allegedly defamatory statements about Tuition Options were “related” to the underlying class action.  Accordingly, Judge Middlebrooks concluded that all of the challenged statements were absolutely privileged.

The links to the pleadings from PPSL’s website did not change this analysis, Judge Middlebrooks held, finding that Florida’s “robust” litigation privilege extends to hyperlinks to court documents that are otherwise publicly accessible.

Thomas & LoCicero attorneys James B. Lake and James J. McGuire represented PPSL.  The case is styled Tuition Options, LLC v. Project on Predatory Student Lending, Inc. and Mayer Law PLLC, Case No. 23-81293-CV-MIDDLEBROOKS (S.D. Fla.).

With offices in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Thomas & LoCicero is a Florida-based firm with a national practice focused on Media and Free Speech, Business Litigation, Intellectual Property & Marketing, and Data Privacy & Security.  Clients benefit from the firm’s extensive knowledge and experience in defamation, complex commercial litigation, business torts, breach of contract, antitrust and unfair competition, invasion of privacy, trademark, and copyright.

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