Jackson Walker attorneys Paul C. Watler, Shannon Zmud Teicher, and Eric Wong successfully defended The Dallas Morning News against a defamation suit related to an article reporting on the handling of donations intended to support the families of five fallen Dallas police officers who were ambushed at a protest in 2016.
The suit, originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, was brought by Demetrick “Tre” Pennie, a Dallas police sergeant and president of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation. Pennie alleged the newspaper defamed him in an August 2018 article reporting that most of the money raised by his nonprofit did not go to the families of the fallen officers. He sought $290 million in damages against The News, the City of Dallas, former Mayor Mike Rawlings, and other defendants, whom he accused of civil rights violations.
Prior to filing the suit in 2019, Pennie also sued Twitter, Facebook, and Google for their alleged role in the radicalization of Micah Johnson, the infamous perpetrator of the tragic Dallas police shootings. He had also sued former President Barack Obama.
In his complaint, Pennie, who frequently appeared on conservative broadcast outlets, presented himself as a “nationally-recognized law enforcement advocate” and “national media contributor on issues relating to public safety.” Pennie claimed he was the “target of racial discrimination and a coordinated conspiracy to topple his organization and to publicly defame his character.” Pennie alleged The News attacked him for filing a lawsuit against Black Lives Matter in 2016, and claimed the August 2018 article was a “hit piece” about him.
U.S. District Judge Ada Brown dismissed Pennie’s lawsuit for failure to respond to 11 pending motions to dismiss by defendants.
On January 6, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, which was filed “days before the statute of limitations expired” then neglected by the plaintiff for months. The Fifth Circuit wrote that the case presented a “clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff.” The appeals court noted that Pennie and his Washington, D.C., counsel completely disregarded the district judge’s order to comply with court rules requiring local counsel.
The Fifth Circuit found that Pennie was “a day late and a dollar short” in his bid to resuscitate the lawsuit. Writing for the panel, Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones credited Jackson Walker’s arguments that “Pennie was, at least in part, personally responsible for the delays,” and that “prejudice accrued to the Defendants” after Pennie “waited until right before the statute of limitations expired to file his case, delayed serving the Defendants until months after limitations had expired, and then delayed the case by not obtaining local counsel and ignoring dispositive motions.”
“[Based] on the totality of circumstances,” the Fifth Circuit concluded “that a lesser sanction would not better serve the interests of justice,” holding that the lawsuit was properly dismissed with prejudice.
The opinion was issued in Demetrick Pennie et al. v. Ariani Georgi et al., No. 20-10349, in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Founded in 1887, Jackson Walker continues to advance the world of business by helping companies of all sizes navigate today’s increasingly complex, interconnected legal landscape. With more than one-third of the Firm’s more than 400 attorneys practicing litigation, JW has one of the largest trial practices in the Southwest and has been recognized as a National Tier 1-ranked “Best Law Firm” in the area of First Amendment litigation for eight consecutive years. To explore the Firm’s experience representing entities and individuals in media- and communications-related litigation, as well as pre-publication concerns, visit our Trial & Appellate Litigation, Media, and Media Litigation practice pages.