Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie and Treasurer Brian Kepes, acting as part of a class action suit for local members of NextDoor, have filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court against the social media platform NextDoor, as well as township residents Val Murray and Kathleen Norton-Schock, the local administrator, alleging the company allowed Murray to monopolize posting boards with demonstrably false postings, to bully, insult and intimidate other members and to spread misinformation to defeat a ballot initiative in August 2019 seeking a $9 million special assessment district, and to continue her actions, and that Norton-Schock did not follow the platform's stated policies in monitoring the postings or banning her from the site.
The lawsuit claims, “As a result of defendants’ malicious and intentionally misleading campaign, Bloomfield Township residents were deprived of economic and public service expectancies.”
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Norman Yatooma and Christine Constantino Jr. of The Yatooma Law Firm on Wednesday, May 6, will be heard by Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Dan O'Brien. The suit is seeking that the court certify the class; declare that NextDoor and Schock violated NextDoor's policies and procedures; declare Murray tortiously interfered with township residents economic and public service expectancies; to award Savoie, Kepes and all others “similarly situated” monetary damages that are to be held in a trust for Bloomfield Township; award attorneys' fees and costs; and/or grant such other further relief as is just and equitable.
The lawsuit claims, “As a result of defendants’ malicious and intentionally misleading campaign, Bloomfield Township residents were deprived of economic and public service expectancies.
The proposed class is defined under MCR 3.501 as all current or former members of NextDoor’s Bloomfield Township neighborhood board, who reside in or do business in Bloomfield Township who have experienced a loss of public service, in particular public safety services, as the result of NextDoor’s negligent failure to police and enforce its stated policies on its message boards.
According to the complaint, NextDoor, which is a California-based, privately-held corporation, has 236,000 neighborhoods connected globally through its platform. NextDoor has signed up 11,000 members in Bloomfield Township.
“NextDoor presents itself as a safe place for neighborhood discussions to take place, and while it allows political discussions on a separate board, either a 'local' board or 'national and state' board, NextDoor’s policies specify that postings must be 'helpful, not hurtful,' and prohibit postings that attack, shame, insult, bully or belittle other NextDoor members. Political comments are expected to be neutral in tone,” the complaint stated. “Contrary to NextDoor’s policies, the company allowed Defendants in Bloomfield Township Michigan to monopolize posting boards with demonstrably false postings designed to fabricate fear and panic in the community during the COVID-19 crisis… Murray is a NextDoor member who monopolized the NextDoor’s local Bloomfield Township message board and posted comments that attacked, belittled and bullied other NextDoor members on the board. Murray also posted misinformation and regularly told other NextDoor members that facts posted on Bloomfield Township’s official website designed to give residents information about the special assessment district were false and residents could not trust them. By engaging in their campaign of misinformation and voter intimidation, Murray tortuously interfered with Bloomfield Township residents public service expectancies.
“On information and belief, Murray has freely admitted that she has used NextDoor as a political tool and will continue to do so in the future. NextDoor has freely allowed Murray unfettered access, even after receiving letters of complaint from other Bloomfield Township residents… Murray has been allowed to repeatedly post uncivil and intimidating postings on NextDoor’s site, often specifically targeting and attacking other members who expressed an opposing viewpoint.”
The lawsuit cites numerous incidents, from NextDoor's own COVID-19 violations to those fostering fear among township residents, including repeatedly and falsely stating township offices and services were “closed” to the public, which the lawsuit said, “may lead to potentially fatal results for Bloomfield Township residents who rely on Murray’s false and self-serving statements.” While Township Hall is closed due to the coronovirus crisis, all employees are continuing to work, and the public may make appointments to come in and meet with officials, a point that has been communicated to residents and Murray disputed.
As for Schock, the lawsuit states, “Schock identifies on NextDoor’s platform as the regional director for NextDoor with the authority to remove people from NextDoor’s platform. On information and belief, Schock is enforcing NextDoor’s policies in a discriminatory fashion to remove users from NextDoor’s platform who disseminate positive viewpoints while endorsing users who promote negative viewpoints regarding Bloomfield Township and its elected officials.”
She has also promoted incendiary political conversations, according to the complaint, attacking and denigrating elected officials and ballot initiatives and election issues. Among the items cited are former township treasurer Dan Devine, now running for supervisor, who has repeatedly posted false and spurious statements against Savoie and Kepes, and has argued with other residents about those postings. In one instance, township trustee Michael Schostak responded, “Dan, it's clear that you are going to use NextDoor as a soapbox to mount your political campaign against the incumbents, but please try to stick to the real issues.”
Murray is running in the August township primary for a trustee position on the Democratic ballot.