Scene Files for Court Enforcement of TownHall's Agreement to Dismiss Lawsuit and Pay Scene's Attorneys' Fees


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We’re glad to finally be able to provide an update on the lawsuit that TownHall’s owner and general manager filed against us in June.

First, the background:

As initially reported here, TownHall sued Scene over a report that temporarily, for about one hour, misidentified the target of a hateful and discriminatory Facebook comment made by TownHall’s manager Ryan Hartzell as a Black woman, when Hartzell had actually directed the remark to a Ukrainian immigrant who was a former TownHall employee.

Scene’s position on this lawsuit from the outset has been clear. First, that the substance of its report was substantially true—i.e., that TownHall’s GM made a hateful and discriminatory remark to the member of the public in response to criticism of the restaurant’s apparent disregard of public health guidelines in its “reopening” amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. And second, any harm caused by the alleged defamation couldn’t have possibly damaged TownHall’s or Hartzell’s reputation given both the hateful and discriminatory nature of the remark at issue, as well as numerous other developments, both past and current, reflecting far more negatively on the reputation of TownHall and its management than Scene’s temporarily and minimally inaccurate report possibly could.

As stated by our attorney, Peter Pattakos, the day the case was filed:

“This is a classic example of an abusive lawsuit by a wealthy business owner intended to silence negative reporting about his business. With the journalism industry as challenged as it is today, especially in Cleveland, the good news here might be that Scene is more likely to recover on counterclaims against TownHall than TownHall is to recover a penny against Scene.”

Pattakos’s prediction looks to have been correct. Only a few weeks after TownHall filed its lawsuit, our legal team had assembled a motion for summary judgment attaching evidence reflecting on TownHall’s reputation in the community, showing that it could not legally establish that it was damaged by Scene’s report. After Pattakos emailed TownHall’s attorney, Chris Congeni, a copy of this motion on July 1, TownHall and Hartzell agreed the next morning, July 2, to dismiss its lawsuit and make a donation to the Scene Press Club in the full amount of Scene’s attorneys’ fees.

Since then, TownHall owner Bobby George has suffered a case of buyer's remorse, and in an apparent effort to continue to chill Scene’s reporting about his business activities, has refused to comply with the parties’ settlement agreement. While he has remained willing to make a donation to Scene in the full amount of its attorneys fees, he has insisted on Scene keeping the fact of the payment secret from the public, and has asked Scene to agree to other unacceptable confidentiality provisions and restrictions on its reporting.

Scene has explained to Mr. George, and also affirms to you, our readers, that such restrictions are unacceptable here. As our attorneys stated in our motion to enforce the settlement agreement that was filed with the court this morning, Scene’s journalistic mission requires vigilance against threats to its First Amendment rights, and to your right to be informed by our reporting. TownHall’s frivolous lawsuit against us represents just such a threat, and the settlement agreement reached by the parties, which guaranteed Scene’s right to announce that TownHall paid its attorneys fees, reflects the importance of these concerns.

We also affirm to you, our readers, that in our settlement agreement with the TownHall plaintiffs, we did not agree to keep any information about the plaintiffs confidential apart from the precise amount of the attorneys’ fees that they promised to compensate us for.

We remain committed to reporting on this and all matters of concern to our readers and expect that our settlement will shortly be enforced by the Court under clear Ohio law requiring the same. A copy of our motion to enforce, which includes the parties’ correspondence confirming the settlement, is below. We will of course keep you posted on further developments.

The filing is below and can be found here for those on mobile devices.
See related PDF 2020-07-23_motion_to_enforce_file-stamped_copy.pdf

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