Any of you long-time readers have known that for over the past two years Philadelinquency has been tied up in a frivolous lawsuit filed in Federal Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The ending is not something that the plaintiff would have ever expected. Club Aura and its owner Marc Stein, have agreed to pay out funds in order to end their frivolous lawsuit. In return, I agree not to sue the pants off of Marc Stein nor try to take his house he lives at up in Blue Bell, PA.
The TL;DR version of what happened
Club Aura owner Marc Stein got butthurt over neighbors at Front and Fairmount in Northern Liberties being upset at the loud let-out noise, the fact that the nightclub was operating without a required license, that the Philadelphia Police Department started to direct attention to his nightclub and that this blog and Philebrity had documented Club Aura’s doings and blogged about it. The lawsuit was filed not long after Northern Liberties neighbors had appeared at a hearing in front of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to report the nightclub’s activities in hopes that the PLCB would begin enforcement supervision of the nightclub.
The lawsuit was filed against a scattershot litany of defendants; which I can only guess was in hopes that everyone would cow and stop complaining about his illegal nightclub and offer to settle the suit on his terms. Instead, the lawsuit has been settled with Stein paying out money as well as his (now-former) lawyer’s malpractice insurance carrier kicking in the rest.
That’s right bitches, Philadelinquency is gettin’ paid. So is Philebrity, so are the neighbors that Stein sued.
Now, the more fun version of what happened
The list of defendants Marc Stein sued:
- City of Philadelphia
- City of Philadelphia Police Department
- 6th District Police District Capt. Korn
- 6th District Police Sgt. Brennan
- Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association
- A list of neighbors, all who live(d) next to Club Aura
At the beginning of this lawsuit, Marc Stein was represented by Marirose Roach, Esq. This civil case was her first-ever before a Federal district court. Later on in the suit, Ms. Roach pulled in her law practice partner Kenneth Manyin during the discovery phase before Ms. Roach was replaced with (expensive, and more seasoned) Gavin Lentz. Mr. Lentz was paid to untangle the mess that Stein and Marirose Roach had created when the case was filed.
I had two attorneys representing my side. Jordan Rushie and Marc Randazza of the Randazza Law Group.
The theory that Club Aura put forward in Federal Court is that everyone colluded together in a racially-motivated conspiracy to end Club Aura. Club Aura argued that similar establishments like Soundgarden don’t attract derision from Northern Liberties residents because it’s a mostly white crowd that goes to Soundgarden, and that people don’t like Club Aura solely because black people go there.
Club Aura seems to forget several times through the course of the lawsuit that it never possessed a valid Special Assembly Occupancy License to operate, ignored the City Code in doing so, or that public input was actually a requirement in order to land a busy dance club cheek-to-jowl on a residential block, or anywhere else for that matter.
Either way, nobody lives on the block Soundgarden is located on and it faces towards the Delaware River. I’m sure maybe if they play bad EDM loud enough with every door open perhaps some crickets in New Jersey might be able to hear it or upset Delilah’s patrons in their parking lot. And whatever vomit and pissing that patrons might do when leaving Soundgarden would happen on Delaware Avenue, and not on and around neighbors front steps and parked cars.
Let’s also not overlook the fact that suing your new neighbors is just never a good look.
So, racism. It’s gross and people should stop doing it. But not every claim that is labeled as racism actually is. Stein contended that everyone who thinks Club Aura is obnoxious is a racist because of its clientele. Let’s watch and listen to Club Aura’s owner, Marc Stein, using his own words in sworn testimony about racism, describe how he markets his entertainment services to his customers…
I was seated directly across the table from Stein (who is white) when this testimony was given. Ms. Roach (who is black) slumped in her seat as Stein answered. Yes, comrades, a white suburbanite club owner of an ‘urban upscale’ nightclub who is levying civil rights charges in defense of his business because of his patrons race and ethnicity, himself says cryptoracist shit directly into the record.
Since I was specifically sued for libel, I’ll let those of you who still want to line up to sue me in on a little secret: I know the law better than the lawyer you’re reaching for in the phone book and Yelp; plus my lawyer in Philly and my other lawyer in Nevada know astronomically more than I do since they breathe and put Grade-A meat on the table with 1st Amendment lawsuits. I’m going to give away some secrets and show you how Club Aura’s lawsuit falls to bits when they tried to sue me.
In any lawsuit where you are claiming you were hurt by libel or slanderous publications, you have to pass some smell tests. There’s more than just this list but these are the barest of essentials:
- There’s a 1-year statute of limitations for publications in Pennsylvania, so whatever was said or printed has to not be over a year old
- You have to point out specifically (this “specific” is really specific) what was said or what was printed that was presented as a legal fact that the author knew at the time it was said or written was false
- You have to show that the false facts that were said or printed were done with malice with an intent to harm
- The statements you’re showing to a court that you say were defamatory can’t be opinions and editorials.
- Finally, you have to demonstrate that you suffered injury (damages) because of the false facts that were presented
Now, there’s more hurdles than this especially if you’re what the court calls a public figure (like a politician or a celebrity), but you should get the point by now. You have to really be determined in order for defamation claims to stick to you.
Here’s an example. If I said something like “Mr. Cohen is an unabashed pedophile. He was convicted of it in Oregon in 1999”, I’m not expressing opinions, I’m stating facts. Legal facts. I specifically said Mr. Cohen is a pedophile and he was even convicted of it–meaning that somewhere in some courthouse filing cabinet sits a rap sheet with Mr. Cohen’s conviction record as a sex offender.
If I said this recently (within 1 year), it is without-a-doubt false, Mr. Cohen is my sworn-enemy and he has documented evidence that I am out to get him and Mr. Cohen was fired from his job because his employer believed that he is a pedophile and they can’t have him around children so he’s suffered some real damages—I am in some deep shit. I can be sued into bankruptcy. Civil courts across America deal with a heavy burden of defamation lawsuits that are mostly garbage, but any judge would allow a defamation case like this go all the way to the end because it’s a good case. That, my dear readers, is libel.
So how about Club Aura? Stein’s lawyer presented lots of e-mails and blog postings, many of which were well over a year old, demonstrating that his lawyer didn’t know a thing about Pennsylvania defamation law. My attorney also had to get Stein to recite what the definition of the word fact is. For the record.
Other words Stein read the definitions aloud for the record: hyperbole, racism, fact, defamation.
As for specificity, Stein simply printed every blog post about Club Aura and then attached them as exhibits. That would only be prudent if every single word printed on the page were completely false facts presented with malice to my audience. During Marc Stein’s deposition we had to spend hours picking apart sentence by sentence asking Stein to point to the instance of defamation.
None was found.
But there was one thing that I did screw up. One of Marc Stein’s previous nightclubs, Club Dreemz, I had said was shut after Brynne Schuenemann, a college student who was served by the nightclub, had died at the club.
A Pennsylvania jury and an appeals court concluded that there was credible evidence that a Marc Stein nightclub served an over-intoxicated person, who later got into a car and died on Delaware Avenue, the Schuenemann estate was also awarded a $1.9 million dollar jury verdict.
While Stein and all the lawyers were picking apart everything I’ve ever written about Aura, only a single error was found about what I wrote: the actual location of Schuenemann’s death. I certainly wasn’t wrong about why she had died, although I didn’t say directly that Stein’s nightclub was responsible for her death but any layperson reading that article would certainly think that. Still, I was wrong about where she died.
In light of the alleged damage that Stein insisted I inflicted upon his business, I think any reasonable person would agree that the precise GPS location of where this poor girl was killed is far less important to Stein’s business reputation than the fact, a legal fact, that Stein was found to be negligent in her death because of how he runs his business.
You Interfered With My Business!
Everyone that Club Aura sued was also levied another charge called tortious interference with a (business) contract. This is lawyerspeak for “you intentionally torpedoed a business deal with your bad behavior and it damaged my business.”
This umbrella claim against me required the defamation to be proven to have happened, which it wasn’t. Admittedly, I think there’s plenty of people, myself included, who would be glad to see Club Aura close for good–but that’s only because it’s been a bad neighbor with its raucous let-outs, loud noise and its propensity to operate without the required City permit.
If Club Aura was a real bar and restaurant like it claimed it was when it took out permits from the city, there would be no super-loud music or a large crowds of rowdy drunks disturbing the neighbors after every event that is ever held at a busy nightclub. It would basically be a neighborhood bar, like any other on a residential block in this city, which it certainly had the right and the opportunity to operate as one, which it chose not to.
Further, when Stein filed the lawsuit he didn’t actually show that any contracts had been breached because of the City, Northern Liberties neighbors, or by anything written here on PDQ or anywhere else. Judge Petrese Tucker took issue with this and ordered Stein to produce evidence that supported his claim that contractual relationships had ended because of the other claims he presented.
After missing a court-ordered deadline, a mysterious set of written notes coming from a series of DJs and vendors appeared–all affirming that they had to give up Club Aura for good. One letter that Stein added to the complaint to buttress this claim came from Odai Morgan, who spins as DJ Mega Skills, is simply ridiculous.
If Stein had coached Morgan to produce this letter (below), it clearly didn’t include any content that shows that DJ Mega Skills refused to do any events at Aura, and even if that was his intent, the exhibit doesn’t even say that it was due to anything that I or any neighbors of Club Aura have done. I’ve included his letter below for your amusement.
About that permit…
At the beginning of the lawsuit Club Aura waffled quite a lot about the Special Assembly Occupancy License. During the course of the lawsuit Stein claimed he possessed a temporary SAOL permit giving him the ability to operate as a nightclub. This appeared in the original claim that was filed but then it disappeared when Stein amended his complaint.
At the time of deposition, my attorneys cornered Stein and his lawyer for evidence of this temporary permit–since we would need it for trial. Stein never produced this document, probably because there is no such thing as a temporary special assembly occupancy license for an established business.
I mean… I should know this. I physically went to L&I’s offices and also quizzed the L&I Commissioner, Carlton Williams, whether what Stein was saying or what his lawyer was writing in her court filings had any credence. L&I doesn’t give out temporary nightclub licenses. Only permanent ones. Did Stein or his lawyers actually think that I wouldn’t verify that with the City? Unreal.
SLAPP Yourself Silly
I have to say, if Marc Stein ever had any inclination to think that filing a stupid lawsuit such as this one instilled any fear or quieting effect on the people whom he has sued, today’s blog post should prove otherwise.
I can’t speak for the other defendants, but being sued in Federal court was a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience.
I don’t think many frivolous lawsuit filers really expect that their cases get all the way into court depositions, much less one that lasted for seven brutal, crushing hours. This case was shredded to bits during the deposition phase by two lawyers who are masters at the art of legal interrogations. It was that day that my lawyers warned Stein through his attorneys that a Dragonetti lawsuit was coming, and then soon afterwards all the remaining defendants filed counterclaims against Marc Stein. The case had collapsed by then.
This type of lawsuit is not atypical of what happens across many courtrooms in Pennsylvania. They’re called SLAPP suits for a reason. Marc Randazza, my lawyer in Nevada, helped to get an anti-SLAPP law passed in the Nevada state legislature which today has the strongest anti-SLAPP law in the country.
Pennsylvania offers no legal protection against SLAPP lawsuits with one very tiny exception: if the public speech being made is about environmental public policy. Even with this exception, Pennsylvania law doesn’t really allow any victim of a SLAPP suit to have the merits of the plaintiff’s case examined well before the lawsuit gets underway and the legal bills reach large figures. An anti-SLAPP law would dramatically cut the cost of defending yourself against a frivolous lawsuit. Instead of legal bills the size of a show-room Mercedes, the bills drop down to about the cost of a snazzy new computer.
If Pennsylvania had anti-SLAPP protection on the law books, if you get sued, this would allow you and your lawyer the opportunity to kill a frivolous lawsuit very early in the case by requiring the court to hold a hearing where the merit of the defamation claims have to be heard once the complaint is filed.
Pennsylvania judges do not bother to carefully examine the content of what was actually said or published or even that it meets the requirements of a defamation suit (or any other kind of tort, really) until far later in the process which takes years for all the legal horse-trading and evidence gathering to finish and both sides are ready for a trial. Only by that time is the judge really interested in the merits of the claim as the judge will soon need to formally prepare for the trial.
Everyone who files frivolous lawsuits knows that they won’t win their lawsuit, except for the folks who are truly insane. But that isn’t the point of these lawsuits. The goal of the lawsuit is to use the long arduous court process as a weapon to silence critics and to shut them up and hopefully use it as a tool to silence other targets. They’re used in retaliation. Lawyers call this a “chilling effect” on speech. Most ordinary citizens are terrified at the prospect of being sued. Many with good reason–they fear bankruptcy and financial ruin.
In this lawsuit there was none of that, but in Pennsylvania plenty of victims of SLAPP suits are financially ruined by lawsuits that drag out for far longer. I’ve met some of those victims and the vindictiveness of some people is truly astonishing. I do everything I can on Philadelinquency to protect myself: I keep up with the law, I have controversial posts that I write pre-checked by lawyers, and I make very clear distinctions between when I’m writing an opinion vs. when I am telling you a fact.
I should also point out that many of our local and state politicians love to use the threat of defamation lawsuits against the local media. If you’re dissatisfied with the state of news reporting these days, SLAPP suits are a significant contributing factor to why news content is so soft and editorial quality is so poor compared to how it was in the past. It’s hard to get a lawsuit threat over a human interest story about a new dolphin at the zoo than it is to write a hard-hitting piece about scumbags doing dirty deeds that masquerade as upstanding business people with sparkling reputations.
Even if you’re super-careful about what you write and stick to opinions, you can still be sued anyway because of the way Pennsylvania courts currently work. You can literally sue anyone for completely fictitious claims. You don’t even really need to include a supporting exhibit showing the speech that made you lose your lunch. I can just state that you said it and tie you up for two years in legal motions. If you have a small amount of money to blow, you can use the courts as a weapon.
My legal bills from this stupid escapade are in the 5-figure range. I don’t run ads on Philadelinquency or sell products to keep this blog going. Unfortunately, that is going to change. If you don’t have an ad-blocker plugin for your web browser, you should probably go get one, because this blog won’t be safe from them for very long.
DJ Mega Skills claiming he had a “negative effect” because Stein did not possess a required City permit [entered into evidence as “proof” that tortious interference with a contract existed]:
Tags: Gavin Lentz | Jordan Rushie | Kenneth Manyin | Marc Randazza | Marc Stein | Marirose Roach