ELD upstart says Rand McNally's lawsuit falls short of defamation requirement

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 8/17/2017

In response to a lawsuit from Rand McNally that claimed One20 orchestrated “fake” Twitter accounts to make customers believe the 161-year-old business was going bankrupt, the fledgling Minneapolis-based company maintained that the allegations didn’t constitute defamation.

One20 filed its reply brief to Skokie, Ill.-based Rand McNally’s first amended complaint on Wednesday, Aug. 16, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Both companies sell tablets that serve as electronic logging devices for heavy-duty trucks.

One20 didn’t directly address Rand McNally’s allegations that it orchestrated fake Twitter accounts in a campaign against the longtime company. However, One20 used its 14-page response to argue that the statements highlighted in Rand McNally’s complaint didn’t meet the requirements of defamation per se.

The attorneys for One20 said that Rand McNally had misapplied Illinois law and that “a false accusation of bankruptcy does not constitute defamation per se.”

One20 cited the cases Pippen v. NBC Universal Media, and In re Dawson as support to its argument. The Pippen case involves former NBA star Scottie Pippen and his lawsuit against NBC for incorrectly reporting that he had filed for bankruptcy. Pippen argued that the false report hurt his ability to earn a living through product endorsements and appearances. However, the Illinois district court dismissed the claim, saying that the falsehoods didn’t fit any category recognized by Illinois law and that it couldn’t be proved that the defendant acted with a reckless disregard for the truth. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the ruling.

“Pippen and Dawson make clear that a false accusation of bankruptcy is not ‘so obviously and materially harmful to a plaintiff that (its) injury may be presumed,” One20’s attorneys wrote in the reply brief.

“And the harm arising from the statements identified in the complaint must be ‘obvious and apparent on its face.’ Defendants have argued that the statements in the complaint do not satisfy this requirement and do not fit within the ‘per se’ categories, and Rand McNally fails to directly address the majority of them.”

Rand McNally filed the lawsuit, which also specifically names One20 President and CEO Christian Schenk, in February.

“In an effort to destroy (Rand McNally’s) reputation, defendants One20 and Christian Schenk launched an online advertising campaign directed at maligning Rand McNally and its products,” the lawsuit stated. “Specifically, defendants published detailed webpages and advertisements that clearly and falsely state or imply that Rand McNally’s ‘Wall Street’ owners have ‘gutted’ Rand McNally and left it in such a precarious financial position that it is on the verge of going bankrupt, meaning it will go out of business and not be able to honor any of the warranties for its ‘old, outdated, and ratty devices.’

“Defendants then used or, at a minimum, directed others to use ‘fake’ Twitter accounts that they created by misappropriating the photos from real Twitter users to circulate further their defamatory statements about Rand McNally.”

Rand McNally claims that One20 used at least two “fake” Twitter accounts to post defamatory statements about the company. The lawsuit said @robslands purports to be that of a truck driver named Rob Sands, who lives in Arkansas City, Kan., and that @richjohnson29 claims to be that of an ex-trucker named Rich Johnson, who is “deeply involved in making truckers’ lives better.”

“However, the individual whose photo is being used for (@robslands) is actually a man who works in digital strategy for IBM in Pennsylvania,” Rand McNally said. “The man neither created the Twitter account nor posted any tweets about Rand McNally.

“The main the profile photo (for @richjohnson29) is not ex-trucker Rich Johnson. To the contrary, the man practices law in San Jose, Calif., and has no association with the trucking industry.”

Rand McNally claims that many of the tweets posted by these two accounts were retweeted by @ohtruckthat, a Twitter handle owned and operated by One20.

As of Aug. 17, the Twitter accounts for @richjohnson29 and @robslands still existed, and the referenced tweets remained. However, neither of the two accounts, which follow each other, have posted a tweet since early February.

Amanda Ford, One20 vice president for marketing and corporate operations, said in an email on Thursday that the company declined to comment on the lawsuit at this time.

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