Articles Posted in Defamation

Where defendant moved to dismiss a defamation suit under the Tennessee Public Participation Act (“TPPA”), and the trial court failed to take into account the third step of the TPPA burden-shifting framework which considers whether a defendant can establish a valid defense to the claims, the case was remanded for further consideration of the third step in the analysis.

In Pragnell v. Franklin, No. E2022-00524-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 18, 2023), plaintiffs filed a defamation suit against defendants, who were plaintiffs’ former employer. Plaintiffs were financial advisors, and when they left defendants’ company, SEC regulations required defendants to file a U5 form online as to plaintiffs’ departure. Plaintiffs asserted that the U5 forms initially filed by defendants stated that plaintiffs left the company voluntarily, but that after a dispute arose and plaintiffs filed suit against defendants in chancery court, defendants changed the U5 forms to state that plaintiffs were discharged for violating “client privacy rights, misrepresentation, and selling away.” Plaintiffs thus filed this defamation suit based on the statements in the revised U5 forms.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on the TPPA, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-101, et seq. Defendants argued that they were required to file the amended U5 forms upon discovering additional information about plaintiffs’ employment, that the statements contained therein were true, and that the case was subject to dismissal under the TPPA.

Where plaintiff asserted a defamation claim based on his car insurance company putting an “at fault designation” on a federally regulated database, summary judgment for defendant insurance company was affirmed.

Seely v. GEICO Advantage Insurance Company, No. M2021-01263-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 6, 2023) arose out of a dispute between an insured driver and his insurance company following a minor car accident. The insurance company determined that plaintiff driver was at fault, and it paid the claims from the injured party. Despite plaintiff’s assertion that the accident was caused by brake failure and his submission of receipts for brake work, GEICO put an “at fault designation” on plaintiff’s Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report. Plaintiff’s premiums were thereafter raised.

In his complaint, plaintiff asserted several causes of actions, including one for defamation. Plaintiff alleged that “[b]y filing an erroneous entry in Plaintiffs’ CLUE reports GEICO damaged not only their driving records but affected their creditworthiness and good names.” Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the defamation claim, which the trial court granted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

A plaintiff may take a voluntary nonsuit even after the defendant has filed a petition to dismiss under the TPPA, and a petition to dismiss under the TPPA does not survive after voluntary dismissal by the plaintiff and is not considered a counterclaim.

In Flade v. City of Shelbyville, Tennessee, No. M2022-00553-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2023), plaintiff filed suit against several defendants asserting claims for libel, intentional interference with business, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. These claims were based on statements made by defendants about plaintiff through text messages and on social media regarding plaintiff’s role as the landlord of a duplex.

In response to the complaint, the two non-governmental defendants filed separate motions to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) and the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA), Tennessee’s anti-SLAPP statute. While these motions were pending, plaintiff filed notice of voluntary dismissal. The trial court dismissed the matter without prejudice pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.01, and it held that “the TPPA was not excepted from the right to dismissal without prejudice under Rule 41.01.” On appeal, this ruling was affirmed.

Where plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal in his defamation case before defendants filed their petition to dismiss under the TPPA, the trial court erred by granting defendants’ petition for dismissal and awarding them attorneys’ fees and sanctions after plaintiff’s nonsuit.

In Adamson v. Grove, No. M2020-01651-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 17334223 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2022), plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants asserting claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional interference with business relations. Six weeks after filing the complaint and prior to defendants filing an answer or other pleading, plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal pursuant to Rule 41.01, and the trial court entered an order dismissing the case without prejudice four days later.

More than two weeks after the order of dismissal was entered, defendants filed a “combined motion to alter or amend and petition to dismiss with prejudice pursuant to the Tennessee Public Participation Act” (TPPA). Defendants asserted that the TPPA applied to this action, that the TPPA gave defendants 60 days from receipt of the complaint to file their petition for dismissal, and that defendants had a vested right to seek dismissal with prejudice and sanctions under the TPPA. After several replies and responses, the trial court ultimately agreed with defendants and granted the petition for dismissal with prejudice. The trial court also awarded defendants $15,000 in attorney fees and $24,000 in sanctions. These rulings were reversed and vacated on appeal.

Continue reading

Where plaintiff real estate professional brought an action for defamation and false light based on an online review written by defendant, defendant moved to dismiss the action pursuant to the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA).

In Charles v. McQueen, No. M2021-00878-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 4490980 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2022), plaintiff was a real estate professional involved in some capacity with Durham Farms, which was a large residential community. Defendant was a resident in the community who wrote a negative online review of the developer of the community and plaintiff. Regarding plaintiff, the review stated: “Bill Charles, especially, uses misleading tactics to lure in home buyers only to deceive them.”

Based on this review, plaintiff filed this action for defamation and false light against plaintiff. Defendant filed a petition for dismissal pursuant to the TPPA, and after finding that the TPPA applied, that plaintiff was a limited-purpose public figure in the context of this action, and that plaintiff “had not established a prima facie case for actual malice,” the trial court dismissed the case. This ruling was affirmed in part and reversed in part on appeal.

The TPPA, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-101 et seq., is Tennessee’s version of an anti-SLAPP statute and was designed to “encourage and safeguard the constitutional right of persons to petition, to speak freely, to associate freely, and to participate in government to the fullest extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of persons to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.” (quoting Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-102). “The TPPA provides relief for parties who partake in protected activity constituting either the exercise of the right of association, the exercise of the right of free speech, or the exercise of the right to petition.” (internal citations omitted). If a party petitions for dismissal under the TPPA and “makes a prima facie case that they have participated in a protected activity under the TPPA, the court may then dismiss the action against them, unless the responding party establishes a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim in the legal action.” (internal citations, quotation and emphasis omitted).

Continue reading


Where defendant’s allegedly defamatory statements accusing plaintiffs of bigamy were made within the context of a declaratory judgment action, the absolute litigation privilege applied and dismissal of the defamation case was affirmed.

In Vanwinkle v. Thompson, No. M2020-01291-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 1788274 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2022), defendant had previously been married to one of the plaintiffs, and a final decree of divorce had been issued in their divorce case. Approximately ten months after the final decree, plaintiffs married each other. Defendant then filed a “Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and to Invalidate Bigamous Marriage,” asserting that his divorce from plaintiff was not final and that plaintiffs were therefore engaged in bigamy.

Continue reading

Where plaintiff’s tort claims against the church and church elders where he was previously pastor were all connected to the church’s termination of plaintiff as pastor and his resistance to that termination, the claims were barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.

In Maize v. Friendship Community Church, Inc., No. E2019-00183-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 19, 2020), plaintiff was the former pastor at defendant church. After plaintiff had inappropriate communications with a female church member on Facebook, the church elders (also named as defendants) met and subsequently requested plaintiff’s resignation. Plaintiff refused and was then given a termination letter, which he “refused to abide by.” After a second termination letter was delivered to plaintiff, the church elders held another meeting, wherein “it was suggested that [the termination] had to be done through a church vote in order to be effective.” Because plaintiff was refusing to acknowledge his termination, the church sent an email to its members explaining the termination and stating that plaintiff was likely to attempt to hold church services.

Continue reading


Dismissal of claims of defamation and false light invasion of privacy by the former CEO of a credit union was affirmed where the email she cited “was not capable of conveying a defamatory meaning” and could not “be considered highly offensive to a reasonable person;” the statement she cited was “not capable of conveying a defamatory meaning” and was not sufficiently publicized; and the audit report she cited was not given the requisite publicity.

In Tidwell v. Holston Methodist Federal Credit Union, No. E2019-01111-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 25, 2020), plaintiff had been the CEO of defendant credit union and was fired after an audit by a regulatory agency. Several issues were identified by the audit, and plaintiff claimed “she became the scapegoat for these problems.” Plaintiff brought suit against the credit union, the chairman of the Board of Directors, the chairman of the Supervisory Committee, and an independent auditor for libel, false light invasion of privacy, and retaliatory discharge.

The trial court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss all claims. Plaintiff appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal.

Continue reading

Where a plaintiff who had been convicted of multiple violent crimes filed a defamation claim asserting that a reporter damaged his reputation by stating in a written article that the FBI suspected he might have murdered his girlfriend, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal based on the theory that the plaintiff was libel-proof.

In Benanti v. Satterfield, No. E2018-01848-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 27, 2020), plaintiff filed a pro se defamation claim against a newspaper reporter. Plaintiff had previously been convicted in a very public trial of a scheme involving bank robbery through the kidnapping and extortion of bank employees and their families. Defendant reporter had written articles about plaintiff and his trial, several of which plaintiff attached to his complaint. While the articles contained information about plaintiff kidnapping entire families, pointing a gun at a baby’s head, and strapping a fake bomb to an elderly mother, plaintiff’s defamation claims were based on the portions of the articles that stated that plaintiff was suspected of possibly murdering his girlfriend because she found out about the criminal activities (though her death was ruled a suicide), as well as portions that alleged his business that focused on helping prisoners re-enter society was a sham.

Continue reading

Contact Information