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Kennel owner accepts lower damage award in defamation suit

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

Frederick County kennel owner Russell Ebersole's award for punitive damages in a defamation lawsuit fell by 75 percent Sept. 5 after he filed documents in U.S. District Court in Alexandria agreeing to accept the lesser amount instead of retrying the case.

Ebersole's decision came after Judge James Cacheris ruled on August 29 that a jury award Ebersole had received in the lawsuit was "grossly excessive" and therefore violated defendant Bridget Kline-Perry's right to due process under the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Cacheris's decision dropped the amount of the punitive damages from $60,000 to $15,000. Ebersole will also receive $7,500 in compensatory damages on a business conspiracy claim and $7,500 on his libel claim -- a total of $30,000, plus attorney's fees

Cacheris said the $60,000 in punitive damages was 24 times the maximum fine the defendant would have had to pay in a criminal case of libel or slander under state law.

"The court concludes that an award of 75 percent reduction to the jury's punitive damage award is appropriate," Cacheris wrote. "The resulting award of punitive damages is $15,000, and the resulting ratio of compensatory damages is 2:1. The court finds that such an award comports with the defendant's conduct in this case and satisfies the deterrence objective of punitive damages."

Cacheris's decision also denied Kline-Perry a new trial she had requested. He also gave Ebersole the option of a retrial instead of accepting the $15,000 in punitive damages.

Ebersole had initially sued Kline-Perry, operator of Norsire Farms-Rare Colored Jockey Club Thoroughbreds in Purcellville, for $1.35 million.

In court documents, he accused her of conducting an online Facebook campaign "to discredit, humiliate, and vilify" him and Aberdeen Acres Pet Care Center, a kennel he owns at 667 Walters Mill Lane in Stephenson.

Ebersole asserted in his suit that Kline-Perry began posting false and defamatory statements against him on Facebook and in other social media following reports appearing in other media that he was under investigation for animal abuse at the kennel.

No charges resulted from the investigation.

Kline-Perry's attorney, Steven W. Bancroft, denied Ebersole's accusations, although he admitted in court documents that Kline-Perry had commented on Ebersole in e-mails and on Facebook and local media.

Ebersole said Wednesday he was pleased with the outcome of the case and intended to appear in court Friday to address legal expenses and other issues.

Ebersole said the case was the first involving defamation through social media to reach a federal jury.

"It's not about money for me," he said, adding that he more interested in sending a message that "if you're going to jump on Facebook, at least now the case of Ebersole vs. Kline-Perry sets a standard against which you're going to be judged to which I say 'hooray'".

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