A Murfreesboro neurologist who is suing a patient’s daughter over what he says was a false social media review hopes to have his day in court soon in order to clear his name, his lawyer says.
Dr. Kaveer Nandigam recently refiled a lawsuit against Kelly Beavers of Wilson County. He moved it from Wilson County Circuit Court to the county’s General Sessions Court for procedural reasons, his lawyer, Bennett Hirschhorn of Knoxville said. The suit accuses Beavers of defamation of Nandigam Neurology PLC and the doctor, and false light invasion of privacy against the doctor.
The next court hearing is set for Feb. 13. Beavers’ lawyer is Daniel A. Horwitz, who specializes in “anti-SLAPP” cases.
The Tennessee Public Participation Act is a relatively new “anti-SLAPP” law, according to the website for Horwitz, a Nashville-based First Amendment and speech defense lawyer. SLAPP refers to “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”
The act is meant to give more protection to Tennessee citizens in speech-based lawsuits, such as defamation lawsuits, his website says. Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to provide a way to punish people who file allegedly frivolous speech-based lawsuits and help defendants recover attorney’s fees and court costs.
Hirschhorn said SLAPP is meant to defend individuals from “financially strong plaintiffs who have used defamation lawsuits to chill free speech.” It is not meant for a case like this, he said.
Horwitz said, “Nandigam’s SLAPP-suit was frivolous and sanctionable the first time it was filed and dismissed, and it is still frivolous and sanctionable now. Dr. Nandigam is about to learn an extremely expensive lesson about the First Amendment, and he is also going to learn very quickly that prospective customers don’t want to patronize sue-happy businesses that can’t take criticism and are inclined to sue patients and their family members. If you’re looking for a doctor who is capable of decent behavior and who won’t sue you or your children, cross Nandigam Neurology off your list.”
The lawsuit stems from a November incident in which Beavers was at Nandigam’s office with her father — the patient — and other people, Hirschhorn said. Beavers kept going in and out of the treatment room with her phone, he said.
Beavers allegedly used her phone to video record the doctor and her father, Hirschhorn said. Nandigam said he asked her more than once to turn the video recorder off and said she could take notes. She agreed to turn the video off, Hirschhorn said. But she dropped the phone at one point and the video recorder allegedly was still turned on, he said. She was asked to stop again because of privacy concerns.
A doctor’s office is not a public place, Hirschhorn said. There are signs at Nandigam’s office asking people to put their phones away for privacy.
“Not only did she put several patients’ privacy at risk by taking videos inside a doctor’s office, but then she posted a retaliatory review when she isn’t even a patient,” Hirschhorn said in a statement. “That’s not what the First Amendment is supposed to protect – she’s doing it wrong.”
Beavers, who was not a patient, posted on social media platform Yelp, Hirschhorn said. Yelp has since hidden the review under a section that says, “reviews that Yelp considers unreliable.”
The review referred to Nandigam as a “doctor” (in quote marks) and accused him of slamming a clipboard and throwing a temper tantrum and alleged that he should not be a doctor. She allegedly accused the doctor of being unethical and said she would report him to the medical review board. Hirschhorn said Beavers was projecting her behavior onto Nandigam in regards to slamming the clipboard and throwing the temper tantrum.
“That may be her opinion, but the facts are not true,” Hirschhorn said. “This is a question of facts, which can be proven true or false.”
Hirschhorn said that Beavers’ Yelp review led to other people posting negative reviews on Google and Facebook, especially once other media outlets began reporting on the case.
False light means that even if Beavers’ accusations were true, she printed them with the intention of making Nandigam look bad and violate his right to privacy, Hirschhorn said. Although anti-SLAPP filings are concerned with First Amendment and freedom of speech, he said, Beavers does not have the right to invade someone’s privacy and make them look bad.
Nandigam wants Beavers to remove the Yelp review and take responsibility for “wrongfully damaging his reputation,” Hirschhorn said.
In a petition to dismiss the lawsuit, Beavers and Horwitz say, “Ms. Beavers’s Yelp! review, of course, was not illegal, and it falls safely within the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment. For a wealth of additional reasons, the Plaintiffs’ Complaint also fails to state a cognizable claim under any pleaded theory of relief. Because the Plaintiffs have baselessly sued Ms. Beavers for exercising her right to free speech, Ms. Beavers further petitions this Court to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ Complaint and to sanction the Plaintiffs and their counsel under the newly enacted Tennessee Public Participation Act.”