Billy G Prevails In Illinois Lawsuit

A defamation suit against one of the biggest names in the fire service was tossed out of court today.

Chief Billy Goldfeder, co-owner of FirefighterCloseCalls.com, author of the Secret List since 1988, and a 43 year veteran of the fire service, was sued last year by an Illinois non-profit, Remembrance Rescue Project, over content he published in an email in 2014. The suit was dismissed today by Judge Anna H. Demacopoulos of the Cook County Circuit Court.

While the legal technicalities involved in the decision make it difficult to explain, essentially Billy G. was accused of defamation for comments in the email that were critical of the RRP. Those comments were written by Brian Farrell and Billy simply included them. Brian is the Chairman of the Terry Farrell Fund, named after his brother, FDNY firefighter Terry Farrell, who was killed on 9/11. Brian was also sued by RRP, but he was dismissed out of the suit previously.

In her ruling, Judge Anna H. Demacopoulos concluded that the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. §230, protects those using the internet from liability for defamatory content that is written by another party.

According to the decision [with my corrections in brackets]:

  • Plaintiff, Remembrance Rescue Project (“RRP”), is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation comprised of a group of firefighters, which engages in a national campaign for fire education, historical preservation and remembrance for the fallen firefighters of New York City as a result of the attacks of September 11 , 2001.
  • Defendant Billy Goldfeder is a retired fire chief [incorrect] from the State of Ohio, who is an author and a “blogger” with a nationally distributed blog. [Actually Billy is a former fire chief, but currently is an active Deputy Chief with the Loveland-Symmes FD in Ohio, and runs the website www.FireFighterCloseCalls.com and the e-newsletter “The Secret List”].
  • Plaintiff alleges that on May 22, 2014, Defendant Goldfeder republished alleged defamatory statements by forwarding an email authored by Brian Farrell to various individuals in the Los Angeles Fire Department [actually the emails were sent to various individuals that included members of the LAFD] who were scheduled to host RRP events.
  • Plaintiff alleges that the allegedly false and defamatory statements published by Defendant Goldfeder included: (1) the founders of RRP financially benefit from the operation of the project; (2) the RRP is a fraudulent group of individuals who has the purpose of financial gain for the founders and operators of the project; (3) the RRP has engaged in financial impropriety; (4) Rescue Units 4 and 5 are make believe trucks whose purposes are to fulfill the “fire-buff’ interests of their founders and provide financial benefit to the operators of the project; and (5) the RRP has not donated money to support firefighters or their families.
  • Because publication of the alleged false statements is an element necessary to state a defamation claim, the issue presented by the 2-619 motion-whether the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), 4 7 U.S.C. §230, applies and shields Defendant Goldfeder, a blogger and individual who forwarded an email written by another party, from having the status of publisher- may be dispositive in this matter.
  • The CDA provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S. C. §230(c)(l). Moreover, “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State law that is inconsistent with this section.” 47 U.S.C. §230(e)
  • “The majority of federal courts have interpreted the CDA to establish broad federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service.”
  • In order to benefit from the protections of the CDA under the facts alleged in this matter, Defendant Goldfeder must be deemed to be a “provider or user of an interactive computer service” but not the “information content provider.”
  • The latter element is satisfied by the allegations of the TAC, which allege that Brian Farrell, a former defendant to this action, authored the email containing the allegedly defamatory statements and Defendant Goldfeder simply forwarded it.
  • In this case, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Goldfeder published the defamatory statements written by Brian Farrell via email. It is undisputed that Goldfeder was not the author of the statements. Therefore, under the provisions of the CDA, Goldfeder was a “user. .. of an interactive computer service,” whereas Brian Farrell was the “information content provider.”
  • Accordingly, Defendant Goldfeder is immune from liability from the defamation claims pled against him in the Third Amended Complaint.

Here is a copy of the ruling: Goldfeder Order on Motion to Dismiss 5.23.16

Following the decision, Billy G released the following: “I very sincerely appreciate the ruling by Judge Demacopoulos. It’s unfortunate that the plaintiff chose to file a lawsuit, which was dismissed today. Everyone’s time would have been much better spent supporting the 9/11 survivors, especially the families of those murdered as well as the FDNY firefighters, NYC EMT’s and the NYPD/PAPD police officers who continue to suffer from horrific 9/11 related illnesses. As a member of the Board of Directors of the September 11th Families Association, it’s a reminder that now is the time for all communities to start plans for the upcoming 15th Anniversary of 9/11.”

Congratulations to Billy G and his attorney, Patrick J. Walsh, Esq. on the hard fought victory!!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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