Nicaea Academy threatens parent with slander lawsuit, demands money
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CAPE CORAL - A Cape Coral Christian daycare, under investigation by police and the Department of Children and Families over allegations of abuse, is threatening to sue a mother who filed a DCF complaint against them and demanding she pay the school money.
The Nicaea Academy sent Cape Coral mom Cassey Duncan a "cease and desist" letter earlier this month accusing her of slander, and asking her to compensate them for "each of the students it has lost to date"
Duncan is one of three parents who filed separate DCF complaints alleging abuse at the school.
"My child's my life," said Duncan. "She's all I have. And I want her to be safe."
Safety was on Duncan's mind when she withdrew her 4-year-old daughter Audrey from the academy. She complained to DCF after her daughter came home with a red mark on her face.
According to Duncan, the school told her a chair fell on Audrey but they wouldn't let her see the classroom's surveillance video. She says they also waited an hour and a half to tell her what happened.
Duncan turned to a public Facebook group to vent her frustrations.
According to Duncan, the director told her to take down what she wrote. When she refused, the school's attorney sent Duncan a "cease and desist letter" calling her remarks "libelous and defamatory."
"The Academy will not idly stand by and allow this misconduct to continue," the letter read, demanding that she take down her posts.
"She's been very hateful," said Duncan, talking about the school's director. "She's threatened me with legal action for slander...I've actually received a letter from an attorney stating that if I do not stop talking about this that I'd be sued for slander."
She says she just wanted to warn other parents. But the Nicaea Academy saw her words as an attack and it turns out the courts could too.
The letter warned if she did not take down her posts she would be sued for "slander per se."
"Slander per se is presumed to damage a person's reputation," said Cape Coral attorney Mellany Marquez-Kelly, with the law firm Lusk, Drasites and Tolisano.
Marquez-Kelly has no connection to this case. She says under slander per se, the Nicaea Academy has to prove Duncan made damaging and false statements.
"They just have to prove that the statement was made," said Marquez-Kelly. "But also, in the same breath, it has to affect the business."
Last week, the school accused Duncan and two other parents who filed DCF complains - including a mother whose 3-year-old daughter said she was touched in her "no-no spot" - of being on a "mission to destroy" the school and its director.
But Marquez-Kelly says if what Duncan posted on Facebook was true, then the Nicaea Academy has no legal case against her.
"With the defense of slander," said Marquez-Kelly, "truth is a defense."
A defense Marquez-Kelly says could be avoided if you're careful with what you write.
"Just be very cautious of the things you say," said Marquez-Kelly. "Because, yes, slander per se is a very fast and hard rule."
Duncan feels the school is retaliating against her for withdrawing her daughter.
She says she took down her online posts to avoid a legal battle.
Text of the letter
Re: Slanderous and/or Libelous Statements Regarding Nicea Academy
Dear Ms. Duncan:
Please be advised that our tirrn has been retained by Nicea Academy (hereinafter referred to as the “Academy”) to investigate and take legal action against you for a variety of unwarranted and defamatory attacks made against the Academy by you.
Specifically, you have personally placed telephone calls to several parents whose children either are or were enrolled in the Academy and inthe process, made many willfully false and
misleading comments or statements. The comments or statements include, but are not limited to the following:
- that there exists a pattern of Academy personnel abusing students;
- that Academy personnel falsify incident reports to somehow or other put the academy in
a better light; and
- that the Academy is unlicensed or Otherwise unregulated.
It is also my understanding that you have posted similar comments on one or more internet
Websites wherein you actively encourage and solicit defamatory statements from other parents.
The foregoing comments and/or postings are utterly false and without merit and they are both
defamatory and libelous. Such activity is violative of Florida law. Communication that imputes
to another conduct or conditions that are incompatible with the proper exercise of one’s lawful
business, trade, profession or office constitutes slander per se. In slander per se actions, damages are presumed and need not be proven with specificity.
Your attempts to spread libelous and defamatory material regarding the Academy have caused serious and irreparable injury to the Academy, its reputation and its business. The Academy will not idly stand by and allow this misconduct to continue. Therefore, we demand that you:
1. immediately ceaseand desist in making or publishing defamatory statements about the Academy;
2. immediately remove any defamatory and dìsparaging remarks from any and all websites you have posted to;
3. retract and cure the defamatory and disparaging internet remarks by posting a message or messages that the allegations made by you were in fact false; and
4. compensate the Academy for its attorney fees and damages for each of the students it has
lost to date as result of your defamatory conduct; and
This letter shall serve to put you on notice that Should you refuse to comply with the Academy’s demands, the Academy will have no choice but to pursue all legal causes of action available to it. The Academy will pursue a claim for damages, court costs and attorney’s fees as a result of your actions.
This is a very serious legal matter that requires your immediate attention. It is strongly
recommended that you contact me immediately to address and resolve this situation. This letter is your one and only opportunity to resolve this matter amicably.
PLEASE BE GOVERNED ACCORDÍNGLY
Jeffrey S. Bluestein, Esquire
(Marc L. Shapiro Attorney at Law)