Western Union Will Face Attorney Slander Claims

     BRUNSWICK, Ga. (CN) – An attorney’s slander claims against Western Union, whose representative allegedly told a client that the lawyer was a “fraud,” are not time-barred, a federal judge ruled.
     Richard Allen, a criminal defense attorney based in Woodbine, Ga., sued Western Union Financial Services, claiming the company’s defamatory statements cost him a client.
     In July 2013, a jailed client asked his grandfather to send money to Allen for representation fees. When the grandfather tried to transfer a $1,750 advance to Allen, Western Union allegedly told him not to wire the money, calling Allen a “fraud” and “not a lawyer.”
     Allen claimed the incident was not the first of its kind. Western Union had made similar statements about the attorney to other potential clients, and had failed to update its “fraud division” information on Allen after he clarified that he was an attorney, according to the lawsuit.
     Allen initially filed a complaint for slander in Camden County Circuit Court in July 2014, three days before the statute of limitations expired. However, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office waited 28 days to serve the complaint on Western Union’s Atlanta agent, according to court records.
     After removing the lawsuit to Federal Court, Western Union asked the court to dismiss it as time-barred. Although Western Union agreed that Allen had filed the complaint within Georgia’s one-year statute of limitations for slander, it argued that the 28-days-late service made the claims untimely.
     U.S. District Judge Lisa Wood disagreed last week, finding that the late service related back to the date Allen filed his complaint.
     The sheriff’s office served the complaint more than three weeks after receiving it, well outside the five-day grace period. However, since Allen mailed the complaint to the sheriff’s office on time and made efforts to ensure timely service by calling the office repeatedly, he cannot be faulted for the sheriff’s delay, the April 28 ruling states.
     Wood also rejected Western Union’s argument that the complaint, which alleges slander, should be held to a stricter standard as far as service goes, noting that Allen’s claims were clearly filed before the end of the limitations period.
     Atlanta-based attorney Thomas Clyde, who represents Western Union, declined to comment on the decision.
     Counsel for Allen did not respond to a request for comment.

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