Monday, September 25, 2023
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Chiropractor’s Libel Suit Doesn’t Belong in Federal

(CN) - Allstate has no basis to keep out of a Florida state court claims that it conspired with a Bloomberg reporter to defame a chiropractor, a federal judge ruled.

Sarasota, Fla.-based chiropractor Gary Kompothecras treats the victims of car crashes at his office, Physicians Group LLC. He also owns an attorney and medical-referral service called "ASK GARY." The service is licensed to a third party that utilizes the trademark in a "Florida Bar-registered lawyer and medical referral service through the phone number 1-800-ASK-GARY," according to the complaint.

Kompothecras and Physicians sued Allstate, Bloomberg, its reporter David Armstrong and two former Physicians employees in Sarasota County's Twelfth Judicial Circuit, alleging a conspiracy to defame him in a news story with "proprietary information."

"The goal of the conspiracy was to utilize misappropriated trade secrets and proprietary or otherwise confidential information belonging to Physicians Group and to fabricate a ruse of a news story in order to manufacture a reason for a broad-based and well disseminated attack against plaintiffs to harm their financial interests," according to the complaint.

Allstate took action because of its alleged long-standing disapproval of using MRIs to diagnose clients, "which Allstate believes increases the cost of its settlements in accident cases," the complaint continues.

"Allstate has a history of directing its attorneys to use the media, including Armstrong and Bloomberg, to run false, biased and unflattering defamatory articles against individuals and companies that are adversely affecting its profits," Kompothecras also claimed.

The complaint describes an article from Massachusetts-based Armstrong titled "Fraud Probed with Romney's Fundraiser Cited by Victims," which was allegedly published with a video called "Scantily Clad Women, Cash Used in Pain Service Ads."

The 10-page article reveals Kompothecras was named a co-chair of presidential nominee Mitt Romney's Florida finance team and suggests he makes his money by charging clients for services they don't need, according to the complaint.

Kompothecras said the statements in the article "leave the reader with the implication that Physicians Group was overcharging its patients and failing to provide requested updates concerning the total cost of services charged."

Allstate removed the action to the Middle District of Florida on the basis of diversity citizenship, arguing Kompothecras improperly joined former Physicians employees and co-defendants Kathleen Weston and Jennifer Molina.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington in Tampa nevertheless remanded the case last week, finding that the six claims against Weston and Jennifer, including slander and tortious interference, are legitimate. Adding them as defendants was not an attempt to block removal to federal court, according to the ruling.

In the 2007 decision Florence v. Crescent Resources LLC, the 11th Circuit "cautioned that 'if there is any possibility that the state law might impose liability on a resident defendant under the circumstances alleged in the complaint, the federal court cannot find that joinder of the resident defendant was fraudulent,'" Covington wrote. "Such a possibility exists in this case, the court finds that the slander claims are colorable and remand is accordingly warranted."

Kompothecras does not deserve attorneys' fees, however, because the defendants had an "objectively reasonable," if ultimately unsuccessful, basis for removing the action.

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