Electric Car Defamation Battle: GreenTech v. Watchdog.org

GreenTech defamation lawsuit
The tiny car that launched a big-dollar online defamation lawsuit.

GreenTech Automotive, a North Mississippi electric car maker, is suing Watchdog.org for cyberlibel. The car maker wants a cool $85 million because of two articles the advocacy group published online.

Green Tech manufactures MyCars — small electric vehicles. The newish e-car company has plans to make full-size cars at a plant in Tunica, Mississippi. Per the terms of a $3 million loan from the Mississippi Development Authority, GreenTech has a little over a year to create at least 350 jobs in the state.

According to GreenTech, everything was trucking along smoothly until Watchdog.org published a pair of unflattering articles, about the car company, on Watchdog.org. The Plaintiffs seems to be most concerned with one story that quoted an investment adviser who criticized GreenTech’s use of the EB-5 investment program, which allows overseas investors an easier citizenship path in exchange for cold, hard cash. Specifically, GreenTech is arguing that Watchdog.org improperly characterized the company’s reliance on the EB-5 program for funding as a “fraud.” The lawsuit also says the articles’ assertion that the EB-5 program is the company’s “chief source of funding and capitalization” isn’t true.

Since nearly every U.S. defamation lawsuit requires the plaintiff to prove some form of material harm, GreenTech avers the articles under review were responsible for investors’ reconsideration of a $25 million cash injection. Moreover, since the automotive entity is in the midst of a $60 million fundraising campaign, GreenTech insists their development efforts are in jeopardy as a result of the negative online press.

U.S. defamation lawsuit requires the plaintiff to prove some form of material harm.

“They were clearly upset about our reporting,” said Watchdog’s managing editor, Will Swaim. “It’s interesting that the adviser clarified what he meant, and we clarified the story. We thought we were being rather gentlemanly about this given what’s going on with Terry McAuliffe.”

Why the focus on McAuliffe? Well, he is the ex-president of GreenTech and is currently embroiled in a contentious gubernatorial race. As is the case with most political campaigns, McAuliffe’s past work-life is under review, so GreenTech is front and center. Actually, Swaim insists Watchdog became interested in the automaker after vetting McAuliffe.

“It was only a tertiary interest that we started looking at GreenTech itself,” Swaim argued. “Our interest in this was through the back door. It was Terry McAuliffe. He entered the gubernatorial race and was telling everybody he was a major automaker.”

Watchdog’s parent company, the Franklin Institute, also issued a statement to a Virginia newspaper. It’s President, Jason Stverak, claimed that GreenTech’s lawsuit is baseless. “We are confident that GreenTech’s claims are without merit, and we will continue to report on this important story,” Stverak said.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see how this very 21st century lawsuit turns out. In the meantime, if you need an online defamation attorney, get in touch with Kelly Warner Law.

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