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  1. #1

    Default Wrongly Accused of Stealing in a Facebook Post

    My question involves defamation in the state of: Colorado.

    I am part of a company that throws music events. We recently put on an outdoor concert, and our sound engineer secured a generator for us. The generator did not work, and had been obtained from a friend of the sound engineer. After the festival we made multiple attempts to to contact the generator owner in order to negotiate a settlement, something less than the price we'd agreed to pay for use of the generator, as a matter of good faith.

    I should point out that there was no contract between us and the generator owner, nor between the generator owner and the sound engineer. Our contract with the sound engineer makes no mention of the generator. In other words, even though the generator did not work, and there was no contract legally obliging us to pay for it, we tried our best to make things as right as we could, but the generator owner failed to contact us despite several attempts.

    Several weeks passed, and suddenly an ex-employee and friend of the generator owner then proceeded to make several public posts to Facebook over a 2-week period accusing us of "ripping off" his ex-employer. Many comments were made by the public to these posts saying such things as "I can't believe they did that - I'm never supporting them again". We made contact with the ex-employee/friend of the generator owner and told him we were doing our best to work something out, and this individual removed some, but not all, of the posts. Today the ex-employee/friend of the generator owner made more posts, accusing us not just of "ripping off" his ex-employer, but of stealing from the companies that had set up vending booths at our concert. Several individuals who are part of the event-throwing company were specifically accused by name of stealing and pocketing funds illegally. This same ex-employee/friend of the generator owner said he knew for a fact that the music event company were thieves and did this sort of thing all the time in order to personally enrich themselves.

    All of these posts were publicly made to Facebook in the midst of a back and forth with the generator owner over how much we owed him. The generator owner admitted in the email that he was coordinating his activities with the ex-employee in order to exact pressure on us. He said that if we didn't pay up, he would "unleash" the ex-employee "for real". When contacted, the ex-employee of the generator owner admitted that he was making up these allegations of theft and fraud in order to "get results".

    We feel our reputation has been unnecessarily and maliciously maligned, that we were essentially blackmailed into settling for a much higher price than we thought we should pay. Both the generator owner and his employee seemed to gloat that they had been able to use these public Facebook posts accusing us of criminal wrongdoing to get the result they did. We were told that if we simply paid up, it would all go away. The ex-employee/friend of the generator owner has a reputation for harassing people online. They've been reported to Facebook multiple times but Facebook won't remove or suspend their account.

    The amount in dispute is less than $1000, but in the event promotion business, reputation is everything, and what we believe will happen is, if people believe what was said (no retraction was done, the posts were simply taken down, and many comments were made by people saying that they believe the accusations and would act accordingly) they will simply not attend the concerts we throw in the future and we will suffer economically as a result. We can prove that the specific accusations of stealing from vendors are false, and have a paper trail a month long showing a good faith effort on our part to resolve the dispute over the non-working generator that was rented without a contract.

    We are not interested in collecting economic damages, we just want this person to publicly apologize and inform people that the allegations they made were false. It is hard to believe that this level of harassment is legal. Do we have any recourse? We have copies of all the Facebook posts and all the emails. After we sent payment, the posts were taken down, but no retractions were made. We were told by the generator owner that we had "done the right thing".

    We were told that suing would be more trouble than it's worth, I simply cannot believe that people would behave in this way, admit to in explicitly over emails, and get away with it.

    I apologize for the length. I was simply trying to relay as many details as I possibly could. Suggestions on editing for conciseness are welcomed. Just wasn't sure which details were unimportant.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    The problem is that litigating a defamation suit is usually prohibitively expensive unless you have viable damages and those damages can actually be collected.

    The longer you draw it out, the longer people will be thinking about your name in the context of a less-than-ethical company; if the offending posts have been removed it might be in your best interest to just move on.
    An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise - Victor Hugo

    Do not microwave grapes

  3. #3

    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    I've read that false accusations of serious crimes are libel per se and do not require the presentation of additional facts or claiming special damages.

    Does theft and fraud not fall in the category of serious crime?

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    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    If you want to pursue an action for defamation per se, you are free to do so -- but the fact that if you establish defamation per se you are effectively guaranteed to recover a $1 judgment is no guarantee that a judge or jury would award you more.
    Quote Quoting Gordon v. Boyles, 99 P.3d 75 (Colo. App. 2004).
    To be defamation per se, that is, to be actionable without proof of special damages, a libelous statement must be (1) on its face and without extrinsic proof, unmistakably 79 *79 recognized as injurious (defamatory meaning) and (2) specifically directed at the plaintiff (identity)....

    The traditional categories of slander per se are imputation of (1) a criminal offense; (2) a loathsome disease; (3) a matter incompatible with the individual's business, trade, profession, or office; or (4) serious sexual misconduct....

    However, if the defamatory meaning may be understood only in reference to extrinsic facts known by the recipient, then the publication is defamatory per quod.
    Read this, especially the last section.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    I have seen cases like this in small claims. You can sue for the maximum amount in your state, probably $5,000.

    (I would love to see the outcome of this case on one of those court tv shows, except I never do watch tv)

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    Colorado small claims courts do not have jurisdiction to hear defamation lawsuits.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    We are not necessarily interested in a monetary settlement. An ideal outcome would be the defendants being required to post an apology disavowing their statements.

    It is a bizarre situation we find ourselves in. We play by the rules, but apparently it only takes one bomb-thrower willing to "go there" in order to damage one's reputation.

    This is not the first time the individual has made these allegations. They are an ongoing problem, one that started when we decided to not book the individual making the allegations for some work at a concert. However, this is the first time we have the individuals in question admitting to using the online harassment to exact a financial outcome.

    I'm not sure what to think about the idea of this being on a TV court show. I guess it means that this issue appears to the outsider like the concern of a crazy and/or trashy person :-)

    - - - Updated - - -

    Quote Quoting Mr. Knowitall
    View Post
    Read this, especially the last section.
    Thank you for the link, I did read that article yesterday. The individuals in question are, shall we say, "infrastructure providers" in the concert promotion business, so as far as I can tell, the knife would cut just as sharply against them as it would against us in such a case.

    There's a limited market for the services they provide, and seeing the emails they sent entered into the public record might have a deterrent effect on future behavior, assuming that they are rational actors.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    A very wise judge once said (to me, amongst others)

    If you win: expect nothing to change
    If you lose: expect nothing to change
    An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise - Victor Hugo

    Do not microwave grapes

  9. #9

    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    So are you saying that even in a judgement against the defendants, we could not expect an outcome in which they were compelled to make a public statement disavowing their accusations?

    If so, one may suppose that it would be a sound business strategy to just go around accusing one's competitors of specific instances of criminal behavior, given that one could expect never to be punished for making such accusations.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Wrongly Accused of Stealing on Facebook

    But that's not what happened, is it? What happened is that an ex-employee made the posts.

    Now can companies pay or invent so-called ex-employees to do such things? Oh, sure - and they do so at their own risk. It's just the basic shill game (albeit in a different hat).

    However if it's simply Joe ex-employee who left the company on good terms and is simply outraged by a perceived ill against the company, then you're going to be fighting a losing battle in my opinion.
    An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise - Victor Hugo

    Do not microwave grapes

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