By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
A Frederick County kennel owner won $75,000 in court Wednesday when a federal jury returned a unanimous verdict in a defamation lawsuit involving comments appearing on the Internet.
Russell Lee Ebersole accused Bridget Kline-Perry, a Virginia horse breeder, of defaming his reputation through a campaign "to discredit, humiliate and generally villify" him and his kennel on Facebook, according to the complaint. Ebersole owns Aberdeen Acres Pet Care Center, located at 667 Walters Mill Lane in Stephenson.
In a written statement, Ebersole, a resident of Hagerstown, Md., called the outcome of the case in U.S. District Court in Alexandria "a proper verdict." He had been seeking $1.35 million from Kline-Perry, who operates Nosire Farms in Purcellville.
The jury awarded Ebersole $7,500 in compensatory damages on a claim of conspiracy to harm a business, $7,500 in compensatory damages on the claim of defamation and $60,000 in punitive damages.
"In America, we enjoy a Constitutional right to freedom of speech, but when that speech is filled with heinous lies and defames the reputation of fellow citizens or hurts the reputation of a business to the extent that happened here, the circuit breakers of reasonableness and decency have to operate," Ebersole said.
Ebersole's suit states Kline-Perry began posting defamatory and false statements against him on Facebook and other social media outlets not long after media reports that Frederick County law enforcement officials were investigating claims of animal abuse against him.
The stories referred to the seizure of nearly 30 items from Ebersole on Nov. 21. The investigation produced no charges, although he had been imprisoned previously after U.S. authorities said he claimed to have trained dogs to detect explosives, but the dogs proved unable to do so.
The complaint against Kline-Perry states she posted defamatory messages on her Facebook page on Dec. 7 and 8.
Kline-Perry bred and owned a male German Shepherd named Zeus that she sold later to Bill and Georgie Straub, the complaint states.
The complaint describes the Straubs as long time customers of Ebersole who received an e-mail message from Nosire Farms on Nov. 26.
Kline-Perry's attorney, Steven W. Bancroft of Fairfax, admitted in court documents that she had transmitted e-mails and posted comments on Facebook and in local media about Ebersole. He denied the accusations and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.