Oct. 27, 2005

Dentists Who Attempted to Shut Down Web Site Critical of Their Work Have to Pay Attorneys Fees, Court Rules

Ruling Sends Message to Businesses: Don’t Try to Silence Online Critics Just Because You Don’t Like Their Ideas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two Florida dentists who filed a motion for a temporary injunction to shut down a Web site critical of them and the Florida Department of Health’s review of their patient’s complaints have to pay attorneys fees, a South Florida court ruled last week.

West Palm Beach dentist Richard Kaplan and Lantana dentist Leonard Tolley filed suit in November 2004 in hopes of suppressing an Internet site created by former patient Elaine Prentice, a North Palm Beach resident. Prentice had   used the site to warn the public about the treatment she received from the dentists and about the manner in which the Florida Department of Health and its hired expert handled her complaint about the dentists. Prentice was dissatisfied with the extensive dental work performed by Kaplan, Tolley and other dentists and with the way she felt she had been induced to undergo the procedures in question. She complained to the Department of Health and was told by an investigator to “get some mental counseling … and get on with [her] life.”

In a brief filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Public Citizen attorney Paul Levy, who is representing Prentice, argued that Floridalaw does not forbid citizens from complaining publicly about either their dentists or a state agency’s failures and that Prentice had a First Amendment right to create the Web site (www.dentalfraudinflorida.com) to describe her travails. The dentists dropped their lawsuit three days before the case was to be heard.

In an order issued Oct. 20, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Edward Fine awarded Prentice attorneys fees because the dentists and their lawyers from the firm McIntosh, Sawran, Peltz, & Cartaya “knew or should have known that their claim was not supported by material facts necessary to establish a claim.”

“Their case was an outrageous attempt at censorship and they knew it,” Levy said. “Only when citizens like Ms. Prentice have the courage to stand up for their rights can such efforts be defeated. She should not have to lose money defending herself.”

James K. Green, a West Palm Beach lawyer who is a cooperating attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, was co-counsel on the case.

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