Brian Wassom of the Southfield office of Warner Norcross + Judd filed for a dismissal of a lawsuit demanding $9 million in damages from the California-based company NextDoor and two Bloomfield Township residents, who have been sued by two Bloomfield Township officials, because the lawsuit violates the First Amendment on Wednesday, June 24.
Wassom, along with partner Matthew T. Nelson, are representing Val Murray and Kathleen Norton-Schock, the two township residents.
Township supervisor Leo Savoie and treasurer Brian Kepes, acting as part of a class action suit for local members of NextDoor, filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court on May 6 against the social media platform NextDoor, as well as Murray and 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.”
“All my clients did was share their thoughts on social media about the issues that are important to them and have conversations with their friends,” Wassom said.
The motion reads in part, “Plaintiffs’ complaint would be comical if it were not such an affront and threat to basic notions of representative democracy. The suit arises for the simple reason that the Individual Defendants successfully engaged in online politics… It is a fundamental tenet of American society that all citizens are entitled and encouraged to engage in robust discourse on matters of public concern, no matter how agreeable or disagreeable one may find such speech… This lawsuit is a naked attempt by two petty tyrants to silence their political opponents. The Plaintiffs, erstwhile public servants, are upset that the members of the public that they were elected to serve have the temerity to question their performance. So they intend to use the judicial system to punish the upstarts. This abuse of the courts system cannot be allowed to continue.”
As to the plaintiffs' assertions that Murray, in particular, utilized NextDoor to spread mistruths about issues relevant to the township and the plaintiffs, the motion states, “The allegation that Plaintiffs claim some of Ms. Murray’s statements were 'inaccurate' or 'misleading' does nothing to reduce the constitutional protection her statements merit… Even assuming Plaintiffs are correct that some of Ms. Murray’s posts were false does not deprive those statements of First Amendment protection, since they are speech on matters of public concern.”
As for allegations that Norton-Schock did not follow the platform's stated policies of monitoring the postings, Wassom said that wasn't true.
“She didn't work for NextDoor – she's just a volunteer. Their (the community moderator) only function is to provide and keep tabs on the conversation and make recommendations to NextDoor,” Wassom said.
While the motion claims Savoie and Kepes are seeking $9 million in damages, their lawsuit did not specify an amount. It asked the court 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.
Murray and Norton-Schock are not yet seeking compensation, Wassom said, “but we will eventually ask them to at least pay our legal fees for having this frivolous lawsuit.”