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Frey v. Minter

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

August 29, 2019

ROBERT J. FREY, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTHONY BINFORD MINTER and HAROLD BLACH, JR., Defendants.

          ORDER

          CLAY D. LAND, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This action involves allegations of defamation and assault by opposing counsel. Robert J. Frey claims that Defendants slandered and libeled him when Anthony Binford Minter, his opposing counsel in another action, falsely accused Frey of fraud to a newspaper reporter whose newspaper published the accusatory statements. Frey also asserts that Minter and his client Harold Blach engaged in defamation through pleadings by repeating the accusatory statements in filings before this Court and that Minter assaulted him along the way. Minter brought a counterclaim against Frey, alleging that Frey published defamatory statements about him. Presently pending are the parties' motions for summary judgment and Frey's motion for leave to amend his complaint. As discussed below, the Court denies Frey's partial summary judgment motion (ECF No. 85), grants Defendants' summary judgment motion (ECF No. 84), and denies Frey's motion for leave to amend (ECF No. 90).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Motions for Summary Judgment

         Frey seeks partial summary judgment on certain elements of his defamation claims. He asks the Court to conclude, as a matter of law, that Defendants' statements were false and defamatory and that Defendants' claims of privilege lack merit. Defendants, on the other hand, seek summary judgment on all of Frey's claims.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         B. Factual Background

         Blach, who is represented by Minter, held an Alabama judgment against Sal Diaz-Verson, which he has been trying to collect since 2012. Frey, who is Diaz-Verson's former lawyer, also held a judgment against Diaz-Verson for unpaid legal fees that Diaz-Verson owed him. Neither party's present statement of material facts squarely addresses the circumstances of Frey's Judgment against Diaz-Verson, but the circumstances are relevant. Based on the record in a separate action before this Court, Frey's judgment was originally obtained by Porter Bridge Loan Company against Diaz-Verson. Blach v. Diaz-Verson, No. 4:15-MC-5, 2017 WL 1854675, at *2 (M.D. Ga. May 8, 2017). After Diaz-Verson paid part of the judgment's balance to achieve a settlement with Porter Bridge, Porter Bridge assigned the unsatisfied balance of the judgment to Frey in late 2012, and Frey recorded it in Harris County, Georgia in early 2013. Id. The assignment was meant to secure Frey's right to collect a portion of the unpaid legal fees that Diaz-Verson owed to Frey. Id.

         Diaz-Verson's former employer, AFLAC Inc., makes bimonthly payments to Diaz-Verson, twenty-five percent of which is subject to garnishment. In 2015, Blach registered his Alabama judgment in Georgia and began filing garnishment actions against Diaz-Verson in this Court and in other Georgia courts, seeking to garnish the AFLAC payments. Frey filed third-party claims in those garnishment actions, arguing that he had a judgment that was superior to Blach's.

         Blach, represented by Minter, argued that the assignment of the Porter Bridge Judgment to Frey was a fraudulent transaction.[1]In August 2016, Minter provided Daily Report reporter Greg Land an official statement about Blach's garnishment proceeding against Diaz-Verson. The Daily Report published the following statements:

♦ Minter “claims that he's being blocked from collecting [a judgment for his client] by [Frey], who holds a years-old judgment [Diaz-Verson].”
♦ “According to Minter, Frey apparently has no intention of collecting on the $300, 000 judgment but is using it to block anyone else's efforts to ...

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