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Bedford official's Facebook post leads to lawsuit by landscaper


September 21. 2017 8:31PM

KELLEIGH MURPHY 

MANCHESTER — A post on Facebook calling a landscaping estimate "outrageous" has pitted in court a Manchester landscaping firm against Kelleigh Murphy, chairman of the Bedford Town Council.

The two sides are scheduled to face off in a two-day jury trial next week over a defamation lawsuit filed against Murphy for what she posted on social media.

Accurate Landscape & Plowing LLC filed a lawsuit in August 2016 about postings Murphy made on a Facebook page for the group "Moms in Bedford, Amherst, Merrimack, Milford, and Manchester, NH," which had 1,205 members as of May 31, 2016, according to court papers.

Accurate Landscape & Plowing gave Murphy a quote of $3,400 for spring cleanup and mulching work. Murphy also received a second quote of somewhere around $5,000 from a different company, according to court papers.

Murphy posted on Facebook: "Literally the quotes I got were between 3 and 5k. For a yard (with) no leaves to clean up, weed, edge beds and mulch."

Some 45 minutes later, another Facebook post from Murphy read: "Well just in case anyone wants to know, the most outrageous quote I got was from Accurate Landscape," according to court documents.

"The statements above communicate falsely — in two respects — that Accurate overcharges and takes advantage of clients and exhibit an intent by Ms. Murphy to harm Accurate's reputation in the community," wrote Manchester attorney Robert Fojo, who is representing Accurate.

Fojo wrote that “work Ms. Murphy requested for this lavish property was more extensive than a simple ‘spring cleanup’ with ‘mulching.’”

The Bedford property — a 6,156 square-foot residence on nearly one acre — was last purchased in August 2014 for $787,000, court records said.

Murphy’s Manchester attorney, Jaye Rancourt, wrote in court papers that "Ms. Murphy stated an opinion that the quote she received from plaintiff was outrageously high, which opinion was based on facts."

Jury selection is scheduled for Monday with the trial slated for Wednesday and Thursday in Hillsborough County Superior Court North.

"We have never stated that people can’t provide opinion on the internet," Fojo said in an interview Thursday. “We don’t think it’s appropriate for people on any media to state false statements of fact.”

Rancourt said Murphy is a business owner herself, and that business receives good and bad reviews on Yelp and Google Reviews.

“Kelleigh feels strongly this implicates her First Amendment rights,” Rancourt said. “It’s not only about the lawsuit; it’s about the ability of people to speak out and review businesses.”

Murphy, who co-owns Murphy’s Taproom and Murphy’s Diner in Manchester, ultimately paid someone $1,500 for landscaping work, according to court papers.

In February, Judge Kenneth Brown in a written order allowed the case to proceed to trial.

“On the one hand, it cannot be readily said that defendant’s statement is defamatory on its face, as there are no details regarding the nature or extent of the landscaping work to be done aside from ‘spring cleanup/mulching,’” the judge wrote. “Provided a large enough lawn, $5,000 could be a perfectly reasonable price. On the other hand, defendant’s characterization of this quote as ‘outrageous’ could very well lead a reasonable person to understand defendant’s message as stating that plaintiff was overcharging for simple work.

“Because defendant’s post is susceptible of two reasonable interpretations, the court finds the defamatory nature of defendant’s publication remains a question of material fact for the jury,” Brown wrote.

Reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this story.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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