Case Comment: Free Speech v. Defamation/Harassment

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In a recent case out of Orleans, Massachusetts, the trial and appeals court found that an owner’s right to free speech trumped the by-laws of a condo association.

Steven Preu, an owner at Old Colonial Village Condominium Association, had a long-standing history of erratic and disruptive behaviour, which translated into a strained relationship with the board. Things came to a head when Mr. Preu believed that the president of the board allowed his dog to defecate in a ‘no-dumping zone’ of the common elements. In response, Mr. Preu left bags of feces in the no-dumping zone and labeled these bags with the president’s name. On other occasions, Mr. Preu flipped-off management (ie: one finger salute), wrote inappropriate comments on his monthly common element fee cheques, posted signs in the condo stating that it was dirty and wedged open fire doors.

The condo association subsequently brought an action against Mr. Preu, claiming that his actions violated the by-laws of the condo. The court shockingly found that not all of Mr. Preu’s actions violated the by-laws of the condo association. The opening of fire doors and placement of bags of dog feces in the common elements were considered breaches of the by-laws however, the inappropriate notes, signs and hand gestures were not. The court found that some of Mr. Preu’s actions were considered to be “pure speech” and covered by the First Amendment (ie: freedom of speech). The condo association appealed the trial court decision but to no avail. The appeals court, more or less, agreed with the decision of the trial court.

Please see full article below for further information.

 

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