NEW LEXINGTON – A Glenford man has sued a convenience store chain and two of its Perry County employees, claiming the two individuals defamed him with false published statements after he took steps to evict one of them from a rental property he owns.

Larry A. McCartney filed his suit in Perry County Common Pleas Court in March, naming as defendants the Circle K convenience store on East Columbus Street in Thornville, and two store employees, Brandy Murray a.k.a. Brandy Church of Thornville, and Patti J. Duffey of Somerset.

The suit states that Murray was McCartney’s month-to-month tenant from approximately December 2019 through January 2021, at a property in Thornville. McCartney says he is retired and supports himself with income from rental properties.

McCartney notified Murray that her tenancy would not be renewed and she would have to move out, but she refused, the suit claims. On Sept. 1, 2020, McCartney filed an eviction action in Perry County Municipal Court, and a hearing was set for Sept. 21.

That hearing did not take place, as Murray contested the eviction based on an eviction stay issued in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The case remained pending until Jan. 7, 2021, when McCartney dismissed it because Murray had moved out of his property.

Prior to the eviction hearing, however, the lawsuit alleges, Murray and Duffy had published statements about him to third parties, including personnel from the municipal court. These statements, McCartney claims, had no relevance to the eviction case, and were false.

The suit does not provide details on what these allegedly false and defamatory statements were; and though according to the legal complaint a copy of the alleged statements is available to the defendants, it does not appear to be accessible from the records of the lawsuit on file with the common pleas court.

McCartney claims the defendants circulated the statements about him in order to “impugn his character and reputation in the community as well as to have the eviction case delayed, dismissed or otherwise prejudice (his) rights.” He alleges that the statements included “the suggestion that (McCartney) had committed a crime and/or engaged in unlawful activities,” which he claims is “abhorrent and damaging per se.”

In addition to the two individual defendants, McCartney contends, Circle K is vicariously liable for their actions under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior, because they are the store’s employees.

As a result of the published statements, the lawsuit contends, McCartney “has suffered and continues to suffer injury to his reputation in his community, pecuniary loss, and emotional distress in the form of, among other injury, exposure to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace, loss of society, companionship, and/or friendship.”

They have also allegedly placed him before the public in a false light, in a town where he has lived for “going on five decades,” and have interfered with his current and prospective business relationships as a landlord.

Circle K is partly responsible for all this, the lawsuit claims, through its “negligence in training or supervising” its employees.

McCartney is asking that the court order the defendants to issue a public retraction and apology; award him compensatory damages in an amount in excess of the court’s minimum jurisdictional limit; award him punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial; and award him court costs and attorney fees.

Both the store and Duffey have filed answers to McCartney’s lawsuit. In their answers, both have denied key allegations in the suit, including McCartney’s claims that the statements published about him were false and defamatory; that as a result of their publication he has suffered injury to his reputation, financial loss and emotional distress; and that the company is vicariously responsible for the actions of its employees.

The answers also offer a number of affirmative or additional defenses, including the claims that the defendants are not properly named parties to the legal action; that the statements made about McCartney are true; that they were not “published”; that they were statements of opinion on matters of legitimate public concern; that they are protected by absolute, conditional or qualified privilege; and that McCartney cannot prove actual or special damages. The store asks for judgment in its favor, and Duffey asks that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be re-filed.

On July 15, McCartney filed a motion asking the court to grant him default judgment against Murray, on the grounds that she has failed to answer the lawsuit in the time allotted to do so. The deadline to respond to the complaint, McCartney’s motion says, was on or around June 4.

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