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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, April 27, 2015

Lawyer Expands Twitter Defamation Claims

Attorney Todd Levitt
Mt. Pleasant lawyer Todd Levitt has sued a local newspaper, a reporter, and its parent company for defamation [libel and slander], false light and other torts. The 19-page complaint, coming on the heels of the trial court's dismissal of Levitt's separate defamation suit against other defendants, contains 147 allegations spread across eleven counts.

Interestingly, the new defamation lawsuit also names the opposing counsel in the first case as well as two professors who teach in Central Michigan University's College of Business Administration.  For his part, opposing counsel has filed a grievance against Levitt.

Mr. Levitt became a plaintiff litigant when a student at CMU allegedly adopted Levitt's business and law firm persona in a fake Twitter account and began emanating a series of tweets that Levitt says were designed to defame, embarrass and harass.  This time last year, the complaint asserts, Levitt had 4500 followers [no easy feat] and was employed as an adjunct professor at CMU.

Last year, Levitt sued the CMU student but the defamation suit was tossed by the trial court and is now on appeal. We blogged about that case in this post.

Levitt has appealed the trial judge's order granting the tweeting student's motion for summary disposition on the basis that for over two months, the student's false Twitter persona gave no indication whatsoever that it was a parody and that the student intended to cause harm to Levitt's law practice through his micro-blog posts.

In the new case, Levitt is claiming that the local newspaper, Mt. Pleasant's Morning Sun, along with one of its reporters and the parent company, tortiously covered his battle with the Tweeting CMU student by intentionally [or recklessly] making misrepresentations about Levitt. Specifically, the complaint attacks one front-page headline that trumpets that Levitt made up a false award -Top College Lawyer- in order to enhance his electronic profile.

There are many many other examples set forth in the complaint. Fellow CMU business professors and adjunct instructors have a separate set of allegations reserved for their purported misdeeds.

We shall see where all of this goes; what a messy brawl.  If Levitt prevails in his tort case, it will definitely establish limits to what can be posted about a business on social media.

Meanwhile, Scribd, Volokh Conspiracy via the Washington Post, the ABA Journal, and even named defendant Morning Sun have all started following and reporting on this dispute as it involves the juicy intersection between social media and defamation. So stay tuned for updates and analysis as this case unfolds over the next few years.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Mark Torgeson said...

Looked up the Todd Levitt twitter parody and am not sure how one can argue there was "no indication whatsoever" it was a parody when the very first posting (dated April 15, 2014) reads: "The best Todd Levitt parody account has returned!"

May 3, 2015 at 3:39 PM 
Blogger Timothy P. Flynn said...

Mark, the words, "has returned" implies that prior tweets predate what you describe as the "very first posting." Sorry, but we're not convinced by your argument. Your post actually supports the Plaintiff was getting dogged-out prior to this so-called "very first post". According to Plaintiff, it was done in a manner that had no indication the account was a parody. In fact, the Plaintiff hopes to argue to the Court of Appeals that proofs submitted to the trial court were sufficient to demonstrate that his business identity was hacked from whole cloth. If he can persuade them, then the case gets remanded and Levitt's actionable claim proceeds.

May 3, 2015 at 11:03 PM 
Anonymous Mark Torgeson said...

Can you direct me to earlier tweets? I didn't see any admitted as evidence in Scribd prior to April 15.
I'm slated to teach a Social Media Law class this fall and may include this case but would prefer it to be meritable and not the he-said-she-said it appears.

May 4, 2015 at 9:44 AM 
Blogger Timothy P. Flynn said...

No, we are mere commentators on cases we find interesting and possibly useful to our client prospects; you'll have to do your own homework on that. Our source for making the assertion comes from the Plaintiff-lawyer himself. He'll probably be glad to discuss his case(s) with you if you contacted him; he's in the book and easy to find. Or just Google him...

May 4, 2015 at 10:06 AM 

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