SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Louisiana's Second Circuit Court of Appeal agrees a defamation suit against Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler and the city's top administrator should be thrown out of court.
In March of 2017, local businessman Scott Pernici and former attorney and lobbyist Michael Wainwright sued Tyler and CAO Brian Crawford for defamation regarding a long-running dispute between the men and the City of Shreveport.
Pernici and Wainwright claim they discovered an error in the city's four-tier water billing system in 2015 that resulted in customers being underbilled by more than $1 million a year.
Working through a consulting firm called Manchac, the two men disclosed the billing problem to the city and the alleged fix. In exchange for that information, the men sought financial compensation from the city, according to court records.
At various times in a private email and in the media, Tyler and Crawford, without mentioning names, referred to the dispute as "blackmail," "extortion" and a shakedown.
In response, Pernici and Wainwright sued, claiming those remarks were defamatory because they labeled them as being guilty of criminal acts and damaged their reputation.
However, in May 0f 2017, a Caddo Parish District Court dismissed the case just two months after it was filed, ordering Pernici and Wainwright pay all of the city's attorney's fees. The pair appealed that ruling, but following oral argument earlier this spring, the Louisiana 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's decision, dismissing Pernici and Wainright's suit against Mayor Tyler and CAO Crawford.
In a 30 page opinion, the 2nd Circuit determined that the water billing error and the resulting dispute were matters of public concern, and therefore Tyler and Crawford's comments were protected speech under the United States or Louisiana Constitution and not defamatory.
Speaking to KSLA by phone, Wainwright said he was "disappointed" with the decision and has not yet made a decision whether to file an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court.