Charlottesville Descendant of Slave Owners Sues for Libel Over True Report

Charlottesville Descendant of Slave Owners Sues for Libel Over True Report September 18, 2019

A descendant of one of the Virginia’s largest slaveowners and most prominent families is suing a newspaper and a history professor for accurately saying that his ancestors owned hundreds of slaves and treated them terribly. He doesn’t seem to be disputing the truth of the article, which means this case gets dismissed in about 30 seconds.

Edward Dickinson Tayloe II is is the descendant of a “First Family of Virginia,” a euphemistic way of saying white, rich, socially prominent before the American Revolution and—through the Civil War—slaveholding…

Facts about the Tayloe family’s slaveholding past—including the regularity with which it engaged in the heartless practice of splitting up enslaved families—appeared in a brief profile of Edward Tayloe published this March by the Charlottesville, Va., newspaper C-Ville Weekly. In response, Tayloe employed a strategy once frequently used by those of means to silence critics that’s seen a resurgence in recent years: He filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and demanding a fortune in damages.

The profile of Tayloe was a brief section in a longer article about the plaintiffs in Monument Fund v. Charlottesville, another piece of litigation in which he is involved. In March 2017, roughly one month after the Charlottesville City Council voted to take down a local Confederate monument, Tayloe and 12 other co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the city to prevent the marker’s removal…

Tayloe argues that Schmidt’s two quotes, along with Provence’s inclusion of his family’s slaveholding past, are inherently defamatory because they prompt “inferences, implications, and insinuations” that he is “a racist and an opponent of people of color.” His suit goes on to state that he has been “subjected… to undeserved scorn and humiliation as an alleged racist living in the City of Charlottesville.” He seeks $1.35 million in damages based on “impairment of reputation, diminished standing in the community, humiliation, injury and embarrassment, emotional distress, mental anguish, professional and business harm, loss of earning capacity, loss of income, loss and impairment to contracts, loss of business opportunities and expectancies.”

“The result of the publication” of the C-Ville Weekly article, according to his suit, “was to accuse Plaintiff Tayloe of race-baiting in a political and social atmosphere in Charlottesville, Virginia where, since August 12, 2017, there is virtually no worse label.”

One of the best known maxims in the law is that truth is an absolute defense for defamation. It doesn’t matter whether the truth makes someone look bad or that people may use those facts to draw negative conclusions about them, if it’s true it is entirely legally protected. There’s just no way this case makes it past a motion to dismiss. It’s a classic SLAPP suit, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, designed to silence people from telling the truth and exercising their right to free speech.

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