GENEVA – Dueling court filings are continuing in the defamation lawsuit against the managing broker and owner of Micella Real Estate in Geneva, Patti Rambo, filed by the owner of a closed dog kennel who claims she defamed him in social media posts.
Michael Eckblade, who owed A New Dog, Luxury Boarding, Day Care, Grooming Services in Geneva, filed suit last year against Rambo, seeking more than $150,000 in damages.
Phoebe, Rambo’s mixed-breed dog, died Aug. 12, 2017, while in the care of A New Dog, according to the lawsuit. A New Dog is now closed.
Rambo’s attorney Joshua Feagans filed court papers asserting affirmative defenses – that is, evidence to counter the liability Eckblade alleged. These include Rambo’s right to opinion, that her statements on social media were substantially true, that Eckblade failed to mitigate the damage against himself and that Rambo had a public interest privilege to make her social media postings.
“The defendant has now had three opportunities to identify the statements she claims to be protected opinion and yet has refused and failed to do so,” Cooper argued in court filings. “The challenged statements are demonstrably not expressions of opinion.”
Cooper’s court filing also argues that Rambo does not allege any facts to support her conclusion that any of her statements are substantially true.
“She never gets around to explaining specifically which ones are true, nor more importantly, why any specific statement is true,” Cooper’s filing stated.
As to Eckblade’s failure to mitigate his own damage, Cooper’s court filing argues that there was nothing his client could have done “after (Rambo) proclaimed him to be a ‘dog killer.’”
“Because these damages are presumed, there is no duty on the part of a plaintiff to mitigate them,” Cooper’s filing stated.
With regard to Rambo's assertion that her postings were public interest, Cooper countered that they were not published to a party who could take action – but across various media platforms "for the announced purpose of shutting down a private person's business."
In response, Feagans argued in his court filings that Rambo’s beloved dog, Phoebe, died in the custody and care of Eckblade, and that it was his own callousness in handling her grief that caused Rambo to be suspicious.
“Though Phoebe had been dead for up to six to eight hours or more, Eckblade took no steps to preserve the body as required by state regulations,” Feagans’ court filing stated. “Eckblade handed Rambo’s husband an extremely soiled Phoebe in a dirty tarp and was defensive about the circumstances surrounding the death.”
A necropsy could not determine what caused the dog's death because it had been dead too long, according to the lawsuit.
Feagans' filing admitted that Rambo’s social medial comments drew many responses. But he asserted that Eckblade chose “to blame his latest failure on his customers rather than himself,” by suing Rambo and others who participated in the social media discussion.
Feagans’ filing charged that by attacking Rambo’s affirmative defenses, Eckblade was “avoiding the failures of his business which caused this situation to start with and denying the very essence of his job – an obligation to provide 24/7 care to the pets in his custody.”
As to whether Rambo's statements were opinion, "none of the statements are defamatory," according to Feagan's filing.
Rambo's public interest assertion is for a jury to decide, Feagans asserted in his filing.
The case is up for hearing on May 17.