Stephen Nolan Bedford, also known as Nolan Bedford, Petitioner,
Darin Spassoff and 6 Tool, LLC, formerly known as Dallas Dodgers Baseball Club LLC, d/b/a Dallas Dodgers Baseball, Respondents
Petition for Review from the Court of Appeals for the Second
District of Texas
a libel case brought by a business and its sole owner. We
must decide if the plaintiffs established a prima facie case
that could survive a motion to dismiss under the Texas
Citizens Participation Act. In a split decision, the court of
appeals held, among other things, that the statement in
dispute was defamatory per se and therefore damages could be
presumed. We disagree, holding that the statement cannot be
defamatory per se and the plaintiffs failed to establish the
necessary damages element by clear and specific evidence. We
reverse the court of appeals' judgment as to the libel
claim and remand it to the trial court for dismissal and
determination of attorney's fees consistent with the Act.
Spassoff is the sole owner and president of 6 Tool, LLC,
formerly known as Dallas Dodgers Baseball Club, LLC, a youth
baseball-instructional organization. Stephen Nolan
Bedford's son was a member of the Dodgers.
September 12, 2014, Bedford contacted Spassoff to allege that
Bedford's wife had engaged in an inappropriate
relationship with Terry Cruz, the Dodgers' batting coach.
A variety of heated communications between them followed the
same day. That evening, Bedford sent Spassoff a copy of a
Facebook post that Bedford had just made using his wife's
account. The post, which has been modified to
redact some profile attributes, is reproduced below:
communications followed, allegedly including threats by
Bedford to protest at the Dodgers' practice the next day.
Within a few weeks, Spassoff had Bedford's post removed
from the Dodgers' Facebook page.
and the Dodgers sued Bedford for libel and business
disparagement. Spassoff also asserted a claim for intentional
infliction of emotional distress. The Dodgers asserted a
claim for tortious interference with a contract or,
alternatively, a claim against Bedford and his now ex-wife
for breach of contract.
moved to dismiss all the claims under the Texas Citizens
Participation Act, arguing that the plaintiffs brought the
claims to prevent him from "engaging in constitutionally
protected activities." The trial court denied his motion
to dismiss. Bedford then filed an interlocutory appeal.
court of appeals, over a partial dissent, affirmed in part
and reversed in part. It held that Bedford met his initial
burden under the Act by demonstrating that the claims against
him were premised upon statements made in connection with a
matter of public concern. 485 S.W.3d 641, 646-48 (Tex.
App.-Fort Worth 2016). But it also held that Spassoff and the
Dodgers established a prima facie case for each essential
element of their libel claim, and therefore the trial court
did not err by denying Bedford's motion to dismiss as to
that claim. Id. at 649. It further held that the
trial court erred by denying Bedford's motion to dismiss
with regard to the other claims (business disparagement,
infliction of emotional distress, tortious interference, and
breach of contract) and reversed as to those claims.
Id. The court remanded the libel claim for further
proceedings in accordance with the Act. Id.
justice dissented "from the majority's failure to
reverse the trial court's judgment denying
[Bedford's] motion [to] dismiss the libel claim."
Id. at 650 (Walker, J., dissenting). She would have
held that the Facebook post "at most, is opinionated
criticism" and, even if it is defamatory, it is not
defamatory per se and no damages were established.
Id. at 652-53.
scope of our review of this case is narrow. Only the libel
claim is before us. The court of appeals' holding that
the Act applies has not been challenged. Respondents did not
file a ...