Alderman’s Libel Case Thrown Out

Anyone who runs for office would be well-advised to prepare themselves for some mud-slinging. Anyone who lives in the United States cannot help but be exposed to political candidates accusing each other of various indiscretions and dishonesties. These harmful statements are allowed to go unchecked because of the freedom of speech granted to all citizens of the United States under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Although intentionally defaming an individual can be punished under the law, there are limits to the instances in which this can happen. Most courts will protect language referring to a public figure, such as a celebrity or politician, because allowing free speech about public figures is considered to be in the public’s best interest. Promoting free discussion helps keep citizens informed about people and events that could potentially affect them. 

In a recent defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff, Anna Goral, filed a lawsuit against Joseph Kulys for allegedly defaming her when she was running for alderman. During the election, Kulys allegedly posted on his blog that Goral was listed as owning two homes, one in Chicago, and one in Palos Hills. She received a homeowners tax exemption for the house in Palos Hills, but Kulys pointed out that citizens are only eligible for such an exemption if they actually live in the building on which they are taking the exemption. If Goral did live in Palos Hills, then she was allegedly ineligible to run for alderman in Chicago. If she did not live in Palos Hills, then there was a possibility she might be allegedly committing tax fraud. He wrote on his blog that he had reported his findings to the proper authorities and that they would reach a decision regarding whether Goral was in violation of the law.

Goral then filed the defamation lawsuit against Kulys. According to her complaint, Kulys posted his articles “with the sole intent to confuse members of the public and to cause members of the public to not vote for Plaintiff in the aldermanic election as Plaintiff was labeled as untrustworthy and a liar.” She also alleged that Kulys published the articles with actual malice, knowing they were false. 

Goral filed the lawsuit for damages in “an amount that exceeds $50,000” as well as an unspecified amount for punitive damages. She further requested that the court enjoin Kulys from continuing to post the articles on his website, “[forbid] future, unlawful, false, or misleading statements, publications or utterances by Defendant against Plaintiff,” and that the court order Kulys to “[m]ake actual written retractions and inform the members of th[e] public that Plaintiff’s actions which were complained about by Defendant were not unlawful acts and were rather lawful, common and ordinary acts.”

Kulys filed a motion to dismiss Goral’s complaint under the Code of Civil Procedure. In his motion, he alleged that the Act barred Goral’s suit, that her suit was without merit, and was retaliatory and designed to inhibit his exercise of his rights to free speech and political participation.

The court ruled in favor of the defendant. It looked closely at the articles Kulys published and found that the language he used was not sufficient to qualify as an accusation that Goral had violated the law. Instead, he said that Goral may be in violation of the law, and that he would let the proper authorities make a conclusion on the subject of Goral’s taxes.

The court also agreed with Kulys’s assertion that Goral’s lawsuit was filed in retaliation of his exercising his right to free speech. Goral filed her lawsuit shortly after Kulys published the articles in question and her lawsuit according to the court bears markers of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). A SLAPP lawsuit is one that is meant to intimidate defendants from participating in a certain behavior or practice. They are frequently without merit and tend to ask for excessively large amounts of money in order to bully the defendant into submission.

The court pointed out that Goral’s lawsuit was seeking combined damages in an amount exceeding $1 million, in addition to an unspecified amount for punitive damages. The court also noted that Goral did not seek damages for her nonpolitical losses associated with Kulys’s articles. For example, her real estate business can reasonably be expected to have suffered as a result of the articles, but her complaint does not mention it. These facts combined led the court to conclude her lawsuit is a SLAPP lawsuit and without true merit.

Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Naperville, Burr Ridge and Hinsdale, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorneys Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

Lubin Austermuehle’s Naperville and Aurora defamation and slander lawyers have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Elgin, Joliet, and Bolingbrook, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.

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