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Free-speech case made in suit over flour bag with swastika displayed in antique store, disparaged on Facebook

Union Leader Correspondent

June 27. 2017 8:24PM
Attorney Kirk Simoneau makes a point during a motion-to-dismiss hearing Tuesday afternoon before Justice Lawrence MacLeod in Grafton County Superior Court. His client, Nicole Guida, filed a lawsuit against Katherine Ferrier, who is to Simoneau's right and is represented by Attorney Michael Lewis, to her left, alleging that Ferrier disparaged Guida in a Facebook posting that led to the closing of her antique store earlier this year in Littleton. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

HAVERHILL — The attorney for a Bethlehem woman asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the owner of a Littleton antique store who said Katherine Ferrier’s social media comments about a flour bag with a swastika on sale at the store had put the boutique out of business.

“This case needs to stop now. Every second this case moves forward is a violation of my client’s First Amendment rights,” Michael Lewis told Justice Lawrence MacLeod Tuesday during a hearing in Grafton County Superior Court.

MacLeod said he was taking the argument and the one made by Kirk Simoneau, attorney for Nicole Guida, under advisement.

Guida closed Chic & Unique boutique on Main Street on Feb. 1, saying it was in response to the events precipitated by the Nov. 26, 2016, visit there by Ferrier.

On that day, Ferrier saw a 1912 bag from the New York-based Lucky Flour Co. behind the counter at Chic & Unique and confronted Guida about the swastika, telling her it was a symbol of Nazi hatred, racism and intolerance and that its display, three weeks after the election of Donald Trump, was ill-timed.

According to her lawsuit, Guida explained to Ferrier that the flour bag predated the Nazis’ use of the swastika by decades and that in earlier times, the swastika was a symbol of good luck.

Two days later, Ferrier recounted her experience in a Facebook post that Guida claims led to a direct decrease in sales at Chic & Unique.

The presence of a Lucky Flour sack in a Littleton antique shop led to a social media controversy, the store's closure and, ultimately, a lawsuit. (FACEBOOK)

Guida’s lawsuit alleges Ferrier committed defamation, false light, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and interference with economic advantage and said her alleged acts were “...wanton, malicious and oppressive, and she was motivated by ill will, hatred, hostility or evil motive...” 

The suit asks for enhanced damages.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Lewis told MacLeod that there is a long line of decisions at both the state and federal levels that uphold freedom of speech, even in its most noxious forms.

As to the statements that Ferrier made on her Facebook page, in comments to the media, and in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, Lewis said “those statements are among the most thoughtful and moderate” that a person might read in a public forum.

Simoneau said Guida is not racist, and the former store owner tried to make that clear to Ferrier.

“This isn’t (about) the First Amendment,” he said. “This is a purposeful attack” by Ferrier to drive Guida out of business.

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