N.B. artist ordered to pay damages for defaming Fredericton gallery owner
In a cautionary tale about venting on social media, a New Brunswick artist has been ordered to pay damages for defaming a gallery owner.
Ryan Livingstone has been ordered to pay Fredericton gallery owner Ingrid Mueller almost $3,000 because of a Facebook comment.
Court documents show Livingstone called her a thief in a Facebook post in the midst of a dispute over payment for a piece of art.
Livingstone had an oral contract with Mueller for the display and sale of his artwork.
According to the court ruling, the commission rate for bronze and aluminum sculptures was 33 per cent, and the sale of one item in August 2013 went smoothly.
However he did not get prompt payment after the sale of a sculpture for $4,000 in December 2013, and still had not received payment by the summer of 2014.
Mueller testified that she had to move her gallery because of flooding, there was illness in her family and she was considering bankruptcy at the time.
She testified that Livingstone could have taken her to small claims court, but instead took to social media.
“Shame Shame Shame on you INGRID MUELLER for being a dishonest and unethical gallery owner!! HOW DARE YOU!!! Just because you unfriend me on Facebook, stop returning my calls and emails, does NOT mean you do not have to pay me for the artwork YOU sold OVER A YEAR AGO!!!!! I have patiently waited, I gave you a payment plan that you agreed upon (but you did not follow through on any of the payments), and you think you can just cut off communication and walk away from the situation with my money in your pockets!!! This is THEFT. Ingrid Mueller, you are the reason artists consistently struggle to make a living off our art,” read the Facebook post, as quoted in the court ruling.
According to Facebook, 33 people liked the post and 14 people shared it.
Facebook later removed the post because it violated their administrative policies.
Livingstone eventually filed in small claims court and was awarded $759.60, including costs of $125.
But Mueller argued that the Facebook post was defamatory and designed to harm her and her business by impugning her morals, character and ethics.
Livingstone’s defence relied upon the plea that the statement was fair comment and justified.
However, in her ruling, Justice Judy Clendening of the Court of Queen’s Bench said all the conditions were met for a finding of defamation.
“Being called a thief does not include a person who avoids paying debts. I find the words used by Mr. Livingstone regarding the putting of money in one’s pocket being equated to theft is defamatory,” Clendening wrote.
She said there is no doubt that Livingstone had many reasons to be frustrated as he tried in vain to get the money he was owned by Mueller.
“In December of 2014 apparently Mr. Livingstone had reached a point where he felt it was important to inform other artists that Ms. Mueller did not live up to her promises. However, Mr. Livingstone went beyond simply informing other artists of this unfortunate circumstance and he did defame Ms. Mueller,” Clendening wrote.
Mueller asked the court for general damages of between $25,000 and $50,000, but Clendening said that was excessive.
She said even though Livingstone was not justified in making his comment, Mueller did aggravate the stress of not being paid by some of the comments she made to him.
Livingstone has been ordered to pay $2,500 in general damages and costs of $450.