Court documents: Case dismissed against 6 people accused of defamation by former Off Leash K9 owner

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Six women involved in a defamation lawsuit filed by the former owner of Off Leash K9 have had their cases against them dismissed.

Randolyn “Randi” LaFerney filed a defamation lawsuit against 10 individuals and Washington County, Tennessee on June 5, 2020.

LaFerney previously faced animal cruelty charges in relation to the death of a dog that occurred at her facility, Off Leash K9. Those charges were dismissed against LaFerney.

She is also suing the county for the claimed negligent hiring, training and supervision of Nicole Stuwa, an animal control officer. Stuwa is one of the six defendants against who the case was dismissed.

According to court documents obtained by News Channel 11, the following people had the lawsuit against them dismissed:

Janet Keener – False Light Invasion, Malicious Prosecution, Intentional Interference with Business Relations, Libel, Civil Conspiracy
Paezha Marae McCartt – False Light Invasion, Malicious Prosecution, Intentional Interference with Business Relations, Libel, Civil Conspiracy
Kim Livesay – False Light Invasion, Malicious Prosecution, Intentional Interference with Business Relations, Libel, Civil Conspiracy (2 counts)
Lourienne Long – False Light Invasion, Intentional Interference with Business Relations, Libel, Civil Conspiracy
Tammy Davis – Malicious Prosecution, Intentional Interference with Business Relations, Civil Conspiracy
Nicole Stuwa – Malicious Prosecution

A memorandum opinion and order filed in Washington County Circuit Court on December 10 says the charges against the six women were dismissed under a combination of motions to dismiss and petitions to dismiss under the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA).

The TPPA, adopted in 2019, essentially gives more protection to public speech related to matter of public concern and is designed to encourage and shield free speech as defined by both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions.

The memorandum says that in each of these six cases, LaFerney was either unable to provide evidence that false statements were made or prove that they had made statements that led to LaFerney facing charges.

Keener was accused by LaFerney for her alleged creation of an online petition asking for justice for the deceased dog. The court found that since no false statements were made or any information was spread that was not already public record, Keener’s petitions for dismissal were granted.

“No part of Keener’s communication is ‘defamatory.’ Her online posting is at most annoying, offensive, or embarrassing and does not constitute a serious threat to the plaintiff’s reputation. To provide substantial breathing room to promote free speech, unfettered communication, and commentary on issues of public importance, statements that are merely ‘annoying, offensive or embarrassing’, are not actionable,” the judge wrote in the court document.

The memorandum also said Keener’s online statements were examples “emotionally charged rhetoric,” which are constitutionally protected.

The analysis of Keener’s petition and motion to dismiss was used as a precedent for the other five, all of whom have now had their charges dismissed due to LaFerney’s inability to provide evidence that they had made false statements, harmed her business, committed any sort of conspiracy or inflicted real harm to her reputation.

According to the circuit clerk’s office, the entire lawsuit has not been dismissed. Only the six women listed above have had the cases against them dismissed.

Candise Lejeune, Hannah Carley, Ashley Vaughn West and Amy Bryant are all still involved in the lawsuit, as well as Washington County.

You can read the entire memorandum below:

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