Facebook feud about rescued animals erupts in defamation fight
A boiling social media feud over rescued animals in Yamhill County has spilled over into state court.
Kimball Kiess of Carlton, president of the nonprofit YC Community Pet Heroes, is suing Lafayette resident Anita Harris and county resident Rebecca Wallis for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Kiess claims in her 14-page complaint that Facebook posts by Harris and Wallis damaged her reputation and defamed her.
Harris is the administrator of the 'YCPH is a Scam' Facebook page. Wallis is a frequent commenter on the site.
Kiess filed the lawsuit July 7 in Yamhill County Circuit Court. She's seeking more than $40,000 in damages, removal of the YCPH is a Scam Facebook page, retraction of "defamatory" comments about her and the pet heroes program and possible other damages to be determined by the court. No court date has been set for the case.
The heart of Kiess' complaint is a list of damaging statements posted on the YCPH is a Scam Facebook page that she said included false accusations of theft, lying, drinking and scamming some pet owners.
According to the lawsuit: "In writing and posting defendant Harris' Facebook page on a daily and weekly basis throughout August 2019 and into the present, defendant Harris presented to the public a lengthy series of false accusations and inappropriate interferences into plaintiff Kiess' private life and affairs, interferences which included statements specifically designed to raise suspicions with third parties that plaintiff Kiess was and is unfit, was and is immoral, and was and is a deceitful and untrustworthy person."
Harris plans to vigorously fight the lawsuit. "Kimball has asked for a jury trial, and I intend to take all of my proof against her there," Harris said. "The truth needs to be out there. These animals don't have a voice, it falls to us to protect them when others do not."
Social media legal fights
Tigard animal rights lawyer Geordie Duckler represents Kiess in the lawsuit. In March 2017, Duckler filed a similar lawsuit in Washington County on behalf of Chad Ray, who claimed he was defamed by online comments and a small claims court filing by people representing the nonprofit Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals. Ray's lawsuit claimed some from the nonprofit made "false assertions of fact, and were made with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity," that Ray was "an immoral person and engaged in criminal conduct."
That lawsuit was settled in June 2018.
For several years, social media posts have faced legal scrutiny as fodder for defamation cases. In 2011, a Marlow County, Oklahoma, school superintendent sued a local parent for more than $200,000 after negative comments were posted on a Facebook page. In 2010, a Chicago property management company sued a tenant because of disparaging tweets on the tenant's Twitter account. That case was dismissed.
In 2014, a man who posted negative online reviews about a Lane County wedding venue was sued for defamation. In 2016, a Multnomah County jury agreed with a man who claimed he faced emotional distress because of Facebook comments posted by another person about his conduct at the annual Burning Man celebration.
'Unfounded challenges and criticisms'
YC Community Pet Heroes was formed in August 2017 as a nonprofit to "promote the wellbeing of animals in the community and assist pet owners in locating, reuniting and caring for pets," according to the lawsuit. A seven-member board governs the group. Donations fund its operation. The group uses a Facebook page to promote its services.
Harris began her YCPH is a Scam Facebook page in August 2019, after conflicts with Kiess boiled over. Harris said she started as a volunteer with the YC Community Pet Heroes group nearly three years ago, but found herself often in difficult positions when it came to rescued and injured animals taken in by the organization. "I was naive and jumped at the chance to do something good," Harris said. "I'm fully disabled, my animals are my life. If I could do random little things to help animals get back home, sign me up."
It was a disagreement, one of many, about what to do with an injured black cat named Scarlett that led Harris to end her volunteer work with YC Community Pet Heroes. Harris said she was asked to pick up the cat with a serious eye injury. Harris said she and Kiess clashed over getting swift treatment for the injured animal. Harris said it took nearly a year for Scarlett to be treated. The cat's injured eye was removed.
Harris said she began to question Kiess about the group's actions, and that led to the break. Harris said she was blocked from posting on a pet rescue Facebook page run by Kiess, so she created the YCPH is a Scam site.
"I started the page because I was being silenced and called a liar on her rescue (Facebook) page, then was blocked and told to provide evidence at the same time," Harris said. "I made the page to show that evidence."
Harris said she operates similar lost pet social media sites throughout the county and refuses donations. "My reputation, and the lady I do that with, our reputations have never been questioned, and still aren't," she said.
Kiess' lawsuit claims Harris' Facebook posts were "designed in general to impair and adversely affect plaintiff Kiess' current reputation, livelihood, legal rights and social relationships." Posts on the YCPH is a Scam site were "unfounded challenges and criticisms" of "the conduct of the nonprofit organization YCPH, and unjustified and baseless claims of moral improprieties," according to Kiess' lawsuit.
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