The two named defendants in a libel lawsuit brought by Prenda Law claim they “have no idea what exactly” they are being accused of.
Minnesota attorney Paul Godfread and his client, Alan Cooper, said that in a reply they filed this week to the Chicago law firm’s response to their motion to dismiss the suit, which was brought in February in the St. Clair County Circuit Court.
The suit, which was later removed to federal court, asserts that Godfread, Cooper and several John Does “belong to a community of Internet ‘commentators’ fearful of being identified and have falsely accused Plaintiff of, among other things, criminal offenses; want of integrity in the discharge of employment; lack of ability in its profession; and the commission of fornication and adultery.”
The firm claims the defendants made these statements as a result of Prenda Law's work bringing copyright infringement suits
The defendants assert Prenda Law’s attorneys Paul Duffy, John Steele and Paul Hansmeier “have developed a lucrative practice monetizing allegations of copyright infringement of pornographic films.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams earlier this month granted the defendants’ request to stay discovery pending the resolution of their motions to dismiss, one of which is based on Minnesota’s Anti-SLAPP statute.
“Like a common law fraud claim, defamation per se must be pled with a heightened level of precision and particularity,” Godfread and Cooper state in their reply. “This is because a properly pled defamation per se claim relieves the plaintiff of proving actual damages.”
“Here,” they claim, “Plaintiff attempts to avail itself of that extraordinary presumption, but without premising the relevant facts on something more than its mere ‘belief.’”
Prenda Law in its opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss asserts that Godfread and Cooper “have published copious volumes of such false statements to many third parties, theoretically extending to every person on Earth through the Internet.”
The defendants claim that “Plaintiff’s failure to specify to whom the allegedly defamatory matter was communicated renders its Complaint insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”
They further argue that Prenda Law “premises its allegations, in part, on the fact that[both written and oral] statements Godfread has made to the firm [and its agents] have appeared in substantially the same form in Internet postings.”
But, the defendants claim that Prenda Law “proffers neither evidence nor explanation in its pleadings as to the form or content of these statements. No oral transcripts. No emails or letters in its possession. No ‘facts.’"
They add, "Nothing attributable to Godfread at all to show how ‘those statements have appeared, or been incorporated, in comments on the Internet sites referenced herein.’”
Godfread and Cooper state in their reply brief that in addition to them and 10 John Does, Prenda Law’s complaint identifies 66 statements made under 17 distinct screen names and 36 comments attributable to no one in particular.
“Of those 103 comments, Plaintiff attributes none to Godfread or Cooper, nor does he suggest which of the 54 sources may be Godfread or Cooper,” the defendants assert.
“Rather,” they contend, Prenda Law “tosses about allegations in a factual vacuum. Nonetheless, this has not deterred Plaintiff from characterizing Godfread and Cooper as ‘major contributor[s] and participant[s]’ in said postings.”
Godfread and Cooper claim that “As it stands, Defendants have no idea what exactly Plaintiff is accusing them of.”
“To determine whether a statement is protected from defamation claims, one must first know what it is they are alleged to have said,” they assert, adding that by not providing this information, Prenda Law has “rendered impossible both meaningful judicial scrutiny and the Defendants’ formulation of an appropriate responsive pleading or defense.”
“However, such hollow allegations do serve to underscore the frivolous and retaliatory nature of the suits Plaintiff has filed,” the defendants contend. “Any damage, real or imagined, to Plaintiff’s reputation is entirely self-inflicted.”
Massachusetts attorney Jason E. Sweet and Chicago attorney Erin Kathryn Russell submitted the reply brief on behalf of Godfread and Cooper. Duffy represents Prenda Law.