AUBURN — Jayne and Daniel Buck Soules have asked a judge to dismiss a defamation claim filed against them by Lisbon Falls businesswoman Lisa Bosse.
The conflict between the Souleses, who live in Lisbon, and Bosse arose last year after Bosse contacted the Souleses to tell them that Knotty, a former race horse they had given to her, would have to be euthanized because of failing health. The Souleses objected, and wanted Bosse to return the horse to them, and in doing so made a number of public statements about their anger and their desire to get the horse back.
The conflict led to a court-ordered temporary restraining order late last year to keep the animal alive so it could be evaluated by a neutral veterinarian. At the time, the court ordered the animal to remain at Bosse’s RiverView Farm and for the Soules to pay for treatment of Lyme disease and vitamin deficiency.
About a month later, the veterinarian recommended that the 20-year-old gelding be euthanized because his condition would not improve, which the court ordered that day.
In Androscoggin County Superior Court on Wednesday, the Souleses’ attorney, Curtis Webber, said the case should have ended there, but instead Bosse filed a defamation claim and told the couple it could not be settled for less than $50,000.
In making his argument before Justice MaryGay Kennedy, Webber pointed out there is “natural tension between defamation and the First Amendment,” but that the public statements made by the Souleses fell under constitutional protections and did not rise to defamation.
One of the statements that Bosse claims was defamatory was made by Daniel Buck Soules to the Sun Journal that “there’s nothing wrong with that horse. They just won’t let us take it back. They want to kill (Knotty).”
Webber said he believes Bosse objected to the word “kill.”
“Euthanization is ‘killing,’ but Bosse wanted to use more euphemistic terms like ‘put down’” because she had been receiving angry emails from people who couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t give the horse back to the Souleses, he said.
Bosse “is attempting to convert Mr. Soules’ plea for help,” in publicly calling for Bosse to return the horse, as a malicious act. Webber said his clients “were attempting to do something that was very humanitarian, and that was to save a horse from euthanasia.”
In arguing to allow the civil lawsuit to proceed, Bosse’s attorney, David Van Dyke, said that “only in America can someone give a horse to someone only to avoid maintenance fees,” and then when dissatisfied with that horse’s care, “go to the press” to complain about it.
Bosse has spent her entire life being a horse lover, Van Dyke said, and suffered emotional, professional, social and financial damage as a result of the Souleses’ statements. And, he pointed out, Bosse was proven correct in her evaluation that Knotty had to be euthanized, and the Souleses were wrong in their assertions that the horse’s life could be comfortably extended.
Van Dyke said he couldn’t say whether the Souleses’ statements were negligent or intentional, but that five of 11 public statements they made were defamatory and damaging to his client. In particular, he said, was an October 2013 affidavit of Jayne Soules, detailing their suspicion that Bosse refused to return the animal “because she intends to sell the horse meat” after the horse was put down. Van Dyke said that assertion was “not true” and placed his client in an unfavorable light in the public’s eyes.
Kennedy has taken the arguments under advisement.