A New Jersey judge has dismissed a lawsuit aimed at silencing a critic of a puppy broker with a long history of run-ins with state authorities.
Burlington County Superior Court Judge M. Patricia Richmond today dismissed on First Amendment grounds a defamation lawsuit against a blogger critical of a broker who sold him a sick dog that was neither the age nor the breed that was advertised.
The broker, Donna Roberts and her daughter Dawn Abrams, sued Clifford Mintz of East Windsor in June after Mintz put a series of critical postings about the two on his blog.
The case stems from Mintz’s purchase in 2008 of a $400 dog purported to be a nine-month-old purebred Havanese surrendered by a couple who moved out of state. Instead, Mintz said he learned Abrams had sold him a 2-5 year old mixed-breed dog with a host of health problems. A microchip identified the dog as having belonged to David Zimmerman, a large commercial kennel operator in Pennsylvania.
Mintz began to research the seller online and, after discovering Abrams' mother had been implicated in consumer fraud claims and had been convicted of animal cruelty, began posting his findings online.
Roberts told the Star-Ledger she sued because she was harassed by someone who didn’t like the puppy they adopted. The Humane Society of the United States, in its brief in support of Mintz, called it a classic SLAPP case (Suit Against Public Participation) meant to intimidate critics.
Mintz’s attorney, Garen Meguerian, said the lawsuit had a chilling effect among animal advocates in the blogosphere. He called the ruling “A First Amendment victory and a victory for animal advocates who blog." He added, “hopefully the court ruling tells them all, you don’t have to be silent.”
And silent Mintz was no longer, resuming his postings shortly after the decision with this exclamation:
WE WON and justice has prevailed. More importantly, my guaranteed free speech and freedom of expression rights continue to remain intact. And, my faith in the US justice system has been restored!
Finally, there have been days in my life when I have been proud to be an American....this is one of them!
Mintz said later that he was surprised to find himself in the difficult – and costly - position of having to defend himself after blogging what he believed to be true.
“I had to pay a lot for the right to free speech," he said, adding all he won in the case was peace of mind that Roberts won't be able to sue him again.
Still he said he hopes the ruling may help others seeking to warn consumers about fraudulent experiences.
“No wonder Bernie Madoff scams went on for so long. If they don’t like what you say they sue," Mintz said. "They use the system against law abiding citizens.”