A Federal Magistrate Judge in the US District Court for the District of South Carolina, Florence Division, ordered the issuance of summonses to William John Joseph Hoge III of Westminster, Maryland; Patrick G. Grady of Glendale Heights, Illinois; Sarah Palmer of Reidsville, NC; and Eric P. Johnson of Paris, Tennessee, today. The four are being sued by William M. Schmalfeldt, Sr., of Myrtle Beach, SC over allegations of libel, conspiracy, and reckless conduct/wanton misconduct.
The report and recommendation by Magistrate Judge Kaymani D. West suggested dismissal without prejudice of one count in Schmalfeldt’s amended complaint, that of harassment and cyberstalking. Those are considered crimes in South Carolina and there is no civil remedy, hence the recommendation for dismissal.
Schmalfeldt’s complaint alleges false statements made with malicious intent from Hoge (calling Schmalfeldt “a deranged cyberstalker, a liar, someone who fails to live up to his commitments), from Grady for his two-plus year of daily blog attacks against Schmalfeldt, from Palmer for her “BilySez” blog where she claims to publish things actually said or written by Schmalfeldt, twisting them into her own defamatory meaning, and from Johnson for, among other things, falsely claiming Schmalfeldt is the creator of child pornography. The conspiracy allegations come from the fact that there is proof the four defendants collaborated on and offline to commit these offenses. The allegation of reckless conduct/wanton misconduct comes from a recent ruling in which a Federal Judge said all persons bear a responsibility to ensure or “exercise due care” that their words and actions do not incite violence or hatred against an individual.
Schmalfeldt seeks $100,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages from each defendant on the libel charges. As these are libel per se, Schmalfeldt does not need to prove actual damages to prevail. He seeks an equal amount from each defendant on the conspiracy allegations, and $500,000 in actual damages plus $1 million from each defendant in punitive damages on the reckless conduct/wanton misconduct allegations. Total damages, if Schmalfeldt prevails on all counts, would be $10.8 million.
Federal Marshals are in the process of delivering summonses to the defendants, who will have 21 days from the date of service to file their responsive pleadings.