March 21, 2013
Former High Point
City Councilmember Latimer Alexander on Wednesday, March 13 filed a lawsuit for libel against High Point
Planning and Zoning Commission member Cynthia Davis over statements Alexander claims Davis posted on her Facebook page stating that Alexander stole to start his business and was "a bully hungry for power" with a "lack of accountability with the truth."
Alexander asked the North Carolina District Court for Guilford County to award him actual damages, at least $10,000 in punitive damages, and order Davis to issue a public apology and pay Alexander's legal costs. His complaint asks that the apology take the form of "obvious and well viewed" ads in The Rhinoceros Times and the High Point
Enterprise, and that the $10,000, if awarded, be in the form of a check made out to the High Point
Parks and Recreation Department for children's sports.
It's unlikely that a court, if it took the case, would order an apology. A court-ordered apology would be "compelled speech" – something usually not allowed under the First Amendment.
The more usual format is for a plaintiff to ask for an apology or monetary damages, but that's not how Alexander's complaint is phrased.
Alexander's attorney, two-time unsuccessful High Point
City Council candidate Brett Moore, filed Alexander's complaint against Davis on Wednesday, March 13. Davis said she received a civil summons on Friday, March 15.
Davis acknowledged posting such comments, but said they were on the Facebook page for only a brief period. She said she took down the post because she felt, "It just wasn't me." She said she replaced the post with one that said merely, "God bless you ... Latimer." The latter post was still on Davis' Facebook page on Friday, although it had apparently been removed by Sunday.
Davis said she did not want to discuss the case in more detail, on the advice of her attorney.
Alexander's complaint contains what Moore said are screen captures of both the post that Alexander considers libelous and the replacement post.
Both the posts are part of a Wednesday, March 6 dispute between Alexander and Davis on Davis' Facebook page over a periodic survey the High Point
City Council conducts asking about city services with which High Point
residents are, and aren't, happy.
Davis argued that the survey didn't have a large enough sample to adequately represent High Point
In two posts, Alexander told Davis to conduct her own survey if she wasn't happy with the city's, and that there were many opinions in the survey and among High Point
residents, all valuable.
Alexander wrote, "You certainly like to express yours and you should but respect others that do as well when they differ from yours."
According to Alexander's complaint, Davis' response was the following:
"Latimer ...I don't pay you much mind. You have always been a bully hungry for power. Nobody's thoughts matter but your own, sadly. I am at least able to consider others before myself, unlike you. I would think you would be very sore from riding the fence for so many years. You stole to start your own business and proudly share the story from your former seat on Council. Let's not forget your lack of accountability for the Truth, when your are confronted by others on issues pertaining to past city matters. I guess your rude attitude towards me is that I strive to serve honestly and you just serve self. I truly do not give you much thought. I do pray for you to walk in the truth of your faith. I didn't attack you or anyone else...I simply expressed my frustration with the math...anyone that can do simple math would. Have a restful, peaceful nite and may God truly bless you...Cindy." (Ellipses in original).
Alexander's complaint lists his ownership of two companies, FDH Decorative Fabrics and, as the complaint describes it, the "aptly named" Latimer Alexander Inc., which he recently sold.
"He built tremendous value in his namesake brand and his company," the complaint states. "The Plaintiff started this business without having ever received a college education, and without stealing, cheating, or using untoward measures."
Alexander's complaint goes on to list other accomplishments aimed at supporting his good name, from his five terms on the City Council to a claim that, over 30 years, Alexander has donated more than 85 gallons of blood to the Red Cross. "This is not a typo," the complaint states after that number.
The brief Moore prepared for Alexander claims that Davis' post, as represented in the complaint, is "libel per se." Libel per se is a category of untrue defamatory statements that are considered libelous on their face. Statements that are libelous per se, if publication of them is proved, are grounds for a claim without the plaintiff having to prove damages – such as having lost money as a result of the statements.
In North Carolina, the categories of published statements that are considered libel per se are untrue statements that a person has committed an "infamous crime"; that a person has an infectious disease – usually a venereal disease; that tends to impeach a person in that person's trade or profession; or that otherwise subjects the person to "ridicule, contempt or disgrace."
Alexander is claiming that Davis' post, as represented in the complaint, is defamatory under the categories of untruthfully accusing a person of an "infamous crime" and impeaching a person in his trade or profession. He claims that the statements in her post are untrue.
"The allegations clearly state that the Plaintiff, 'stole to start [his] business,' Alexander's complaint states. "This is a clear impeachment of the Plaintiff in his 'trade or profession.'"
Moore said in an interview that Alexander's suit was filed largely because Alexander's personal name is also the name of the company he recently sold, and that brand was the prime asset for which his company was bought.
"His name was his brand," Moore said. "The company was more interested in his name than anything else."
Moore said that Davis' statements, as claimed, might have been an incorrect version of something Alexander said from the dais as a councilmember.
"I don't know exactly what was said by him," Moore said. "Whatever he said was clearly meant to be a joke. Latimer has a self-deprecating sense of humor. Somehow, that didn't get through to her."
In High Point
, political disputes frequently play out in comments posted on newspaper websites, Facebook pages and blogs, and their rhetoric is frequently heated.
Even if a judge finds Davis' claimed statements libelous, the judge might not take their presence on a Facebook page terribly seriously. For example, there is nothing in Alexander's complaint that claims, much less proves, that anyone but Davis and Alexander saw the posts.
Alexander claims that Davis has 88 "friends" on Facebook. As of Sunday, March 17, Davis' Facebook page showed her having 86 friends. Alexander's complaint states that many people other than Davis' "Facebook friends" can see the posts, but does not attempt to prove that any have done so....continued on page 2