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State

Social media outrage over dog's death leads to defamation lawsuit

Phoebe, a mixed-breed dog that was owned by Patti Rambo of Geneva. Phoebe died in 2017 while in the care of A New Dog in Geneva. The company owner is suing Rambo and another woman, alleging their defamatory comments on social media ruined his business.
Phoebe, a mixed-breed dog that was owned by Patti Rambo of Geneva. Phoebe died in 2017 while in the care of A New Dog in Geneva. The company owner is suing Rambo and another woman, alleging their defamatory comments on social media ruined his business.

GENEVA – Be careful what you say on social media. You might just end up in court.

That’s the case for Geneva’s Patti Rambo, a local real estate agent whose posts about a Geneva kennel now are the subject of a defamation lawsuit.

Michael Eckblade, owner of A New Dog, Luxury Boarding, Day Care, Grooming Services in Geneva, filed suit April 2 in Kane County against Rambo, the managing broker and owner of Miscella Real Estate in Geneva, alleging her social media posts damaged his business. Eckblade is seeking more than $150,000 in damages.

Rambo’s attorney, Joshua Feagans, had argued that the lawsuit did not contain enough facts and should be dismissed. Kane County Circuit Court Judge James Murphy disagreed. Murphy denied the motion after a hearing Thursday at the Geneva courthouse, in which he found that the lawsuit was sufficient in its allegations.

Rambo owned Phoebe, a mixed-breed dog that died Aug. 12, 2017, while in the care of A New Dog, according to the lawsuit. The business has since closed.

The lawsuit asserted that Rambo’s postings led to the loss of customers at A New Dog.

Feagans had argued that Eckblade was not specific in providing information of what customers left his business because of Rambo’s posting.

“Eckblade needs to plead facts,” Feagans said. “The burden is on him to prove a false statement.. … It happened. The dog did die.”

But Eckblade attorney Peter Storm argued that it was Rambo’s Facebook postings about her dog and Eckblade’s kennel that were “long on hysteria and short on facts.”

Storm said Rambo had two veterinarian reports that could not pinpoint the cause of the dog’s death, yet she began a social media campaign against A New Dog.

One of Rambo’s postings stated, “We want them out of this business” and encouraged others to stand with her, according to the lawsuit.

The case was continued to Sept. 5.

In a related matter, Murphy heard a motion from Storm to quash the respondent Dana Altier, another social media poster, regarding A New Dog and Rambo’s dog’s death.

To be a respondent in discovery means a person can be questioned, and may ultimately be included in a civil action, according to state statute.

Altier’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, argued that as a Wisconsin resident, an Illinois court did not have jurisdiction over her social media posting, adding that Altier did not commit a tort – an act for which she could be sued.

But Storm countered that being from another state does not matter, citing a case when actress Shirley Jones sued the National Enquirer in 1979 for libel. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California appellate decision that found though the reporter lived in Florida and the newspaper was published there, the tabloid sold 600,000 copies a week in California, where Jones lived, so the libel suit could proceed.

“She posted a number of negative reviews on other sites,” Storm added, “... to ‘shut down this horrible place.’”

Murphy said he would take some time to issue a written decision.

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