August 9, 2020

Anti-SLAPP Laws Work: Tennessee Doctor Suing Patient Over Negative Review Drops Lawsuit

Tennessee is home to an overabundance of BS defamation lawsuits. It must be something in the air area. (See also: Virginia, and Kentucky) Now that the state has a decent anti-SLAPP law, things should start changing. And it may start with Dr. Kaveer Nandigam of Nandigam Neurology in Murfeesboro, Tennessee.

Dr. Nandigam decided to test drive the new law by doing one of those things that always works out well: suing a patient over a negative review. Kelly Beavers was his target. She had visited his office with her father, who was being seen for early signs of dementia. Beavers recorded the appointment on her phone, as she always does, to make sure she had all the information she needed to care for her father.

Nandigam did not like being recorded. He told her to stop recording and demanded she hand over her phone. He also told her to delete the recording, which she did. Beavers — understandably angered by Nandigam’s treatment of her — complained about his actions on Yelp.

This “Dr’s” behavior today was totally unprofessional and unethical to put it mildly. I will be reporting him to the State of TN Medical Review Board and be filing a formal complaint. How this guy is in business is beyond me. Since when did they start allowing Doctors, to throw a complete temper tantrum in front of Patients and slam things when they get upset? He does not belong in the medical field at all.

For this, Nandigam sued. Kelly Beavers, who had done nothing more than express her opinion about the doctor, ended up starting a GoFundMe to raise the $25,000 needed to defend against Nandigam’s baseless libel accusations. Fortunately for Beavers, attorney Daniel Horowitz stepped up to defend her.

Horowitz has been fighting an uphill battle against baseless libel lawsuits in the libel lawsuit-friendly state. He represented culinary school director Randy Rayburn, who was sued by the person he replaced for things a journalist said in an article about Rayburn’s culinary program. Yeah, that’s how screwed up things were in Tennessee before its new anti-SLAPP law went into effect.

The new law makes things much more painless for defendants facing bullshit lawsuits. And it makes things easier for Horowitz, who obtained a voluntary dismissal [PDF] from Dr. Nandigam shortly after filing this motion to dismiss [PDF] under the state’s anti-SLAPP law.

Vague claims of defamation generally kill lawsuits dead. They also signal the plaintiff is hoping to bludgeon someone into a settlement, rather than actually seeking to have a wrong righted. That’s what happened here and that’s why Nandigam made the smart move to dismiss the lawsuit, rather than allow the bleeding to continue. With the anti-SLAPP law in place, it’s his blood on the line, rather than the defendant’s.

[T]he Plaintiff has failed to plead the substance of any of the allegedly defamatory statements at issue or to attach the statements as exhibits to its Complaint. These omissions serve to deprive both the Court and the Defendants themselves—who are being sued for not only their own statements, but also for one another’s allegedly defamatory statements—of any opportunity to determine what, specifically, the Plaintiff alleges is defamatory. Given this context, the Plaintiff’s failure to plead the substance of its defamation claims as required compels dismissal as a matter of law.

Pounding the point home further, the motion addresses the statements made in Beavers’ complaint, much in the way Dr. Nandigam’s complaint did not.

[N]one of these statements is capable of a defamatory meaning as a matter of law for several reasons. In particular, these statements: (1) are based on fully disclosed, non-defamatory facts; (2) are statements of subjective opinion; and (3) are incapable of being proven false.

Tennessee’s anti-SLAPP law means that Nandigam ability to bully Beavers via lawsuit is limited, and thus he has decided to drop the lawsuit. It’s been dismissed without prejudice which means Nandigam could try to refile, but given the lack of actionable allegations in his first complaint, it seems unlikely taking another pass at it later will somehow conjure actual defamation out of thin air. Anti-SLAPP laws protect people from being bullied for their speech. We need more of them.
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