A federal judge has dismissed a defamation suit brought by the now-dissolved Prenda Law Firm against a Minnesota attorney and his client, saying the Prenda partners’ case in support of their allegations online statements purportedly made by the defendants in the case was “threadbare” and fell well short of the legal standards needed to demonstrate the statements either constituted libel or should not be considered immune or protected speech.
U.S. District Court Judge John W. Darrah ruled April 9 in Chicago, granting the motion by defendants Paul GodFread and Alan Cooper to dismiss the suit brought by Prenda Law and its principle, lawyer Paul Duffy.
In granting the motion, Darrah said he believed the allegedly defamatory online statements attributed by the Prenda complaint to Godfread and Cooper are “nonactionable opinions” made without intention of actual malice, rather than libelous statements.
Darrah also held the statements to be immune from defamation suit under Minnesota law, noting Prenda and Duffy have failed on numerous occasions to offer evidence in support of their assertions the statements should not be immune.
“Throughout this case and the companion case, Prenda and Duffy have ignored clear court orders and failed to fully brief motions,” Darrah wrote. “Plaintiffs have not produced clear and convincing evidence that Godfread and Cooper’s statements are not entitled to immunity.”
And the judge further tossed aside Prenda Law’s arguments the statements represented tortious interference with Prenda’s business, saying Prenda only provides “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause, supported by mere conclusory statements.”
Darrah gave Prenda and Duffy 30 days to amend their complaint, if possible.
The ruling comes as the latest step in the legal fight involving Prenda, Duffy, Godfread and Cooper.
Prenda and Duffy sued the two Minnesota men and 10 potential John Doe defendants in 2013 in defamation suits filed in Cook and St. Clair counties, accusing them of making false and defamatory statements both online and in a separate lawsuit filed in Minnesota.
That suit accuses Prenda and its principals with of identity theft for allegedly identifying Cooper as an officer or director of AF Holdings, one of the Prenda firm’s client organizations and which federal judges have labeled a shell corporation, created to help Prenda file copyright infringement and computer hacking cases.
Prenda has been accused of using these suits to “extort” settlements from John Does who Prenda has accused of illegally downloading Internet pornography.
Godfread and Cooper have accused Prenda and Duffy of using the defamation actions to retaliate for bringing the identity theft action in Minnesota.
In a separate order issued April 9, Darrah also rejected Prenda and Duffy’s request to be allowed to demonstrate an inability to pay more than $11,000 in sanctions, as ordered by Darrah in June 2014.
Duffy has missed repeated deadlines set by the judge to pay the sanctions, which represent defendants’ attorney fees. And Darrah noted Duffy and Prenda failed to provide any financial documents in February to support their inability to pay, as the judge had directed.
“To be blunt, the court finds no reason to believe Duffy’s unsupported representations that he and Prenda are unable to pay the sanctions,” Darrah wrote. “Financial documents may indicate that this is true, but Duffy and Prenda have been unwilling or unable to comply with this court’s repeated requests.”
The matter is scheduled to return to court Tuesday, April 28.