Blogging and Defamation in Nevada

Yesterday I gave a short statement to the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee regarding a bill making its way through the legislature, Senate Bill 444.  Before I include it here, I wanted to give some background information that I think would be useful to fellow bloggers.

Defamation

Generally, defamation is a term used to include publication of spoken (spoken) or written (libel) words that are false.  So, in theory, if you wrote something false about someone on your blog, they might have a cause of action in court against you for defamation.  There are specific rules beyond that but as a rule of thumb, as a blogger, you want to be writing things that are truthful (and, given FTC rules, not likely to cause confusion).  Easy enough, right?

Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

There is a lot of nuance to a successful defamation claim, but I always caution people that just because you’re in the right at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean someone can’t drag you into court.  Because of the risk of plaintiffs with deep pockets (able to pay legal fees, etc. even though they may not actually have a chance at winning) filing suits (or threatening them) just to get content they don’t like removed, some states have made laws to protect against them.  These laws are called anti-SLAPP laws.

In Nevada, there has been a form of an anti-SLAPP law on the books since the late 1990s but in 2013 the law was made stronger.  Among other things, a defendant in a defamation suit can file an anti-SLAPP motion within 60 days of being served with a defamation complaint and challenge the plaintiff to show their case is legitimate.  This is a pretty neat framework because in Nevada if you wanted to write a review about a restaurant that hadn’t accommodated your allergies safely or perhaps refused service because of allergies, the restaurant would need to think twice before trying to make you remove the review or suing you.  If they did sue, you’d be able to have a remedy for having to hire an attorney to help you (if the anti-SLAPP motion was successful).

Nevada Senate Bill 444

The bill currently before the Assembly in Nevada would shorten the time a defendant has to bring an anti-SLAPP suit and also limit the types of speech protected.  It would also change the penalty framework that has been in place since 2013.  I read the following yesterday before the Assembly Judiciary Committee and I think it highlights how the food allergy community is impacted when it comes to being willing to share stories and concerns online.  The unique thing these days is that where you might have told a few friends about an experience in the past, now when you share information online it is going to make its way back to the company you’re talking about and they might not be happy.

As an example, a blogger who goes by the moniker “Gluten Dude” recently wrote a post about Udi’s Bread (a gluten free bread on which many with celiac disease and food allergies rely).  He used photos of bread that people have purchased that have holes in them and wrote about trying to reach out to the company about what people are reporting to him.  Like many bloggers, he is using the reach of his readership to magnify a message and get the attention of a large company.  This is the kind of grassroots coverage of an issue that bloggers try to offer that contributes positively to the community at large.

Looking further at the connection between free speech and online content, we have sites like AllergyEats and apps like YoDish specifically catering to the food allergy community.  They encourage honest feedback about dining experiences, so we know there’s an interest in getting good information.  And then there are mainstream review sites like Yelp that can make or break a reputation.

Remember, through all of this, that there is always a party to a lawsuit more prepared for the road ahead.  I recall in a mediation course in law school that this comes up even in the divorce context because one person has already come to terms with a decision even as the other may still be reeling and that changes the balance for negotiation.  In Nevada a plaintiff has two years to sue, but the defendant may not even be aware the suit is coming.  At any rate, all things to keep in mind when considering whether a potentially unjustified defamation suit is going to have a chilling effect on blogging, reviews, and even comments on facebook.

This is also relevant for journalists, as you can see in the picture below John L. Smith from the Las Vegas Review Journal offering his testimony against the bill.

In Las Vegas, NV on April 24, 2015
In Las Vegas, NV on April 24, 2015

I have been in the little teleconference room once before regarding a guardianship bill (you can read more about that here) – you can see to the left the committee members in Carson City.  Another time I offered testimony was when an interim committee was sitting in Las Vegas and I was in the audience for a similar interim committee in town last year.  I have to credit the stock epinephrine legislative process with giving me the courage to take on opportunities to offer my two cents in the legislative process.  Thank you, Caroline for the encouragement on all things legislative!  At any rate, here are my notes going into my testimony:

My Prepared Remarks

Good morning to the Chair and members of the committee.  My name is Homa Woodrum and I’m an attorney in Las Vegas.  I’ve lived in Nevada for 15 years in both Las Vegas, and (a point of pride having lived both north and south) in Winnemucca.  

Though my practice largely focuses on elder law and guardianship, I am also a food allergy blogger and co-founder of the Allergy Law Project – a blog with a focus on disability rights related to individuals with food allergies.  I mention this because the intersection of being an attorney and being a part of an online community results in contacts who reach out to me when they receive requests to remove content on personal blogs.  These individuals wonder about their rights but may opt to take down information rather than wrangle threatened, just threatened,  legal action.  

Other individuals contact me after anaphylactic reactions wondering what they can and can’t say about their experiences out of a desire to keep others in the specific food allergy community safe.  A mother whose son was served real milk instead of soy milk, a college student served his allergen by a barista, a visitor to Las Vegas for a convention served nuts and left to administer his own epinephrine by hotel staff…every single one of these individuals opted not to share their stories because of the commonly held notion that you can’t speak out about companies with big pockets without risking suit.  With SB 444 as written, I would have to advise them all that the risks are too high.

A suit can still be filed and the expense of a defense incurred even if you’ll ultimately prevail.  I am here to add my voice because I think this is an access to justice issue.  I imagine some attorneys would see SB444 as job security, but I for one would rather see continued protective measures available to those who would be crushed by the expense of defending litigation.

A plaintiff always has a choice and can do a cost-benefit analysis before initiating suit.  NRS 41.670 is, I submit, a necessity in the digital era.  As a Nevadan, and attorney, and, though I bristle at the term, a “mommy blogger,” I thank you for your time and urge you to reject SB444.

Final Thoughts

Have you ever decided not to write about something because you didn’t want to face someone else’s reaction?  Have you been asked to pull a blog post, or edit it, by someone else?

Remember, of course, that what I’ve discussed here is related to work that is original to you – if you’ve used a photo without credit or have copied and pasted someone else’s work, you’re treading into copyright issues (also, just don’t do that sort of thing!).  A request to remove content may be related to that content having been stolen but a truthful review of a product or experience may, depending on your state (Washington, for example, has anti-SLAPP laws on the books), have a little more protection than you thought before.

Hopefully Nevada can keep its reputation for strong anti-SLAPP protection!

The No Biggie Bunch (Review and Indiegogo Campaign)

My food allergy dollars allocate in priority to:

1) Injectable epinephrine
2) Safe chocolate
3) Safe food

Now all they need to make is an epinephrine auto-injector case with a spot for emergency chocolate and snacks, right?  My daughter would totally be on board with it if it was pink, blue, and purple. What I mean to get at, in my signature roundabout way, is that the first place I go when I need food allergy related reading material is my local library (and even inter-library loan) before buying books (or usually in lieu of buying them). So I have to admit that I was aware of the No Biggie Bunch series of books for quite some time before I ever investigated further because our local library did not have any copies. We were missing out on a neat quartet of smart, well illustrated, and accurate food allergy reads for the younger set.

No Biggie Nutrition Facts

I met Heather Mehra, co-creator of the No Biggie Bunch books (with Kerry McManama and Michael Kline), and her husband at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference last November and they are some of my favorite people because of their authentic exuberance for kid lit, awareness, and their family. I flipped through one of the books for the first time when I visited with Heather and the quality of the series was readily apparent. I excitedly purchased two books for my children and when they shipped to me I was generously gifted the other two books in the series as well, all signed (thank you so much again Heather)!

No Biggie Bunch books

The No Biggie Bunch should be in libraries and a new Indiegogo campaign aims to make that happen. Contributions fund distribution costs associated with putting the series in libraries across all 50 states. In the first week of the campaign, for example, $30 covers one set of four books for a library as well as two books for a school library dear to the contributor’s heart. Six books (retailing for $14.99 apiece normally) disseminated with sound and approachable food allergy discussion for just $30 is a great deal and I wanted to use it as the nudge I needed to get around to writing about the series here.

Peanut Free Tea for Three

This was the first of the series that I read and I had to get it for my daughter.  Three friends gather to have a tea party and are totally supportive of one another’s food allergy circumstances.  They bring their own safe food, something very familiar in our family, and have a wonderful time.  A main topic in this one is cross contamination with jelly because a knife may have had peanut butter on it during a prior use.  The book also models collaborative imaginary play.

Trade or Treat Halloween

The No Biggie Bunch each have single allergies, as well as one member that has no food allergies.  This really works for kids with multiple allergies because they can identify with more than one character in the books.  In “Trade or Treat Halloween” the kids are able to enjoy trick or treating with the knowledge that they’ll trade their haul for safe options.  Last year we had our first trick or treat outing and my kids handled it very well.  Greta, allergic to wheat, is excited in this story because she trades all her candy for stickers to decorate her room.


Dairy Free Dino-Licious Dig

There are no adults in the No Biggie Bunch books so the situations and dialogue are very accessible to elementary school and pre-school children.  Davis can’t share Natalie’s cheesy crackers when she offers them on a playdate because of his dairy allergy but both Natalie and Davis handle things in an upbeat way.  Davis’ “No Biggie Bag” has just the safe snack he needs and the two can continue with their adventure.  The attitude toward food allergy is very factual but supportive.  I see the children in my daughter’s class being very understanding on a regular basis.  Like Natalie, they want to share but know they need to keep their classmate safe.


Sports-tastic Birthday Party Book

We’ve covered tea parties, Halloween, and the run of the mill playdate. . .I saved the hardest scenario for last – the birthday party.  Scotty’s birthday cake is safe for some but not all of his friends but they are prepared with safe treats of their own.  As a mother I feel a pang of sadness when I read this book because of course we want our children included in those activities that others take for granted but to my children this book reflects the reality of birthday parties for them.  We plan and prepare and shop and bake so we can celebrate with their friends so that the focus of the day is not on the sugar rush (though that is an added benefit) but on having a great time together.

"No Biggie!"
“Along with my princess crown I packed my own jelly in my No Biggie Bag.”

The illustrations by Michael Kline are bright and cheerful and the characterizations are forward thinking – the friends have varied cultural backgrounds and diverse interests but love getting together.  I hope you’ll consider supporting the Indiegogo campaign to get these books into more libraries!

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The books are really focused on models of good habits when managing food allergies, so for books that cover allergic reactions I’d recommend The Princess and the Peanut: An Allergic Fairytale and The Bugabees: Friends With Food Allergies to round out your library collection.  

I am a volunteer contributing reviewer of books, music, and movies over at VegBooks.org if you’d like to check my recent posts there: Philip Reid Saves the Statue of FreedomThe Lego Movie (2014)In a Heartbeat (CD), Patty’s Secret, Bronto, Friend of Ceratops, Violet Mackrel’s Natural Habitat, and Monster on the Hill.

Book Gift Ideas for Two Year Olds

My son has fallen in love with some books of late and I wanted to share a few here in case someone is searching for ideas for a birthday or holiday gift for a two year old boys or girls (my four year old daughter enjoys all of these as well).  Books are my favorite gift to take to birthday parties!

R has been read to a lot but I am sure being the younger child he hasn’t had as much one on one reading time as his sister enjoyed when she was small.  Even so, his love of books has been sparked in the last 6 months in particular and these titles put the biggest smile on his face.  A note about the links, they all go through my amazon affiliate tag (you can read more about what that means here) but you can search for them at your library or other site by title as well.


Have You Seen My Duckling? (amazon affiliate link) – A classic for many children, this one used to make R cry when the ducklings went to sleep with their Mom at the end.  I’m not sure if it was because he was anti-bedtime or because it meant the story was over but I had to skip the last page for a while.  All along, however, he has loved looking for the lost duckling on each page.  A little duckling goes missing from his mother but is never far behind her as she searches so on each page you can see the little duckling and point him out.


Trashy Town (amazon affiliate link) – With R’s obsession with garbage trucks I wanted to find him some good library books and with her usual perfect timing, Allison over at No Time for Flashcards did a post about 25 Books About Cars and Trucks as I began my quest.  What appealed to me about her suggestion for Trashy Town was that it talks about garbage trucks in a nice way.  R likes to read this one to me and cried when we had to give it back to our library.  A man goes about town picking up trash until he finally takes his truck to the dump and heads home for a bath.  Really cute, I have this on R’s Christmas List this year.


Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (amazon affiliate link) – This is a gorgeous book and another to file under the label “charming truck books.”  Each variety of truck finishes his work, gets ready for bed, and says goodnight.  The prose is great for reading aloud and R loves that one of the trucks has a teddy bear.


It’s Not Easy Being Big (amazon affiliate link) – Random choice, I know, but the story is an early reading book that features Elmo and Big Bird from Sesame Street lamenting about being small and big, respectively.  At the end they conclude it can be easy being small and it can be easy being big as well.  I think what R loves about this book are the scenarios he can related to – Big Bird trying to swing, Elmo throwing a football to Grover, etc.  I think I read this to him about two to three times each evening and then tell it to him from memory once the lights are out.  Any little one that loves Elmo (or “Elbow Show” as R calls him) will get a kick out of this book.


Lego Duplo Ultimate Sticker Collection (amazon affiliate link) – Sticker books are an obsession of R’s right now and I actually bought this one for E for when I was in the hospital to give birth to R.  She loved it but he is the one that has pretty much finished putting all the stickers in various places in the book.  I’ve bought other sticker books but this is his favorite and the easiest for his little fingers to manipulate.  The free play areas (scenes where you can put the stickers wherever you want) let him play on his own a little bit instead of always asking for help finding where a particular sticker should go.


Ten Little Ladybugs (amazon affiliate link) – I bought this for R’s 1st birthday and it is still going strong.  There are little plastic ladybugs that are part of the book and they disappear one by one until all of them are home again in the end of this counting book.

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Speaking of books, here’s a roundup of my latest reviews at the wonderful Vegbooks.org (mostly for the pre-school and up set):

Nature’s Patchwork Quilt – A great book about habitats.

Granny’s Clan – I learned so much about Orca whales from this book.

Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme – Another cute re-work of the song “Over in the Meadow” that illustrates and counts rainforest creatures.

Going Home: The Mystery of Animal Migration – From the same author as “Over in the Jungle,” this book discusses animal migration in a clear, easy to understand way that kept E’s attention.

Bronto & the Pterodactyl Eggs – I’ll never get used to calling Brontosaureses by their proper name, Apatasaurus, but the author of this book lets me slip up sometimes by calling the protagonist in the book Bronto.

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What are some of your favorite books for children right now?

2010-2012 Subaru Outback vs. 2009-2011 Honda Pilot (A Tale of Two Vehicles)

I had no idea people were supposed to announce to their friends that they had a new car.  It reminds me of the part in one of my favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof (amazon affiliate link), where a tailor gets a new sewing machine and the whole town calls it a “new arrival” as if it was a baby.  I will meet up with friends and, upon noticing my car, they’ll remark “you have a new car, why didn’t you tell me?”  So, consider this a PSA: let people know when a car joins your family.

We got our 2010 Subaru Outback before R was born.  We needed at least one reliable car and all we had were my 2003 Hyundai Accent (we later gave that to my Mom) and my husband’s Dodge Intrepid (story here).  We shopped around and my husband bought one in Colorado for a lot cheaper than here in Vegas.  The dealer here was rude and would not even come close to matching the price we were getting in Colorado.  Not a fan of the dealer here for other reasons as well in our later interactions with them but I think car dealers in Vegas on the whole are just not worth your time.

After the Dodge quit, we bought our 2011 Honda Pilot a little closer to home (no need to fly!), in Arizona.  Again, local dealers would not match to the price we were getting out of state (feigning disbelief).  Why write about both cars?  I think that our experiences are useful and it has been a while since my husband guest posted.

Without further ado…

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These vehicles aren’t in the same class, I know.  But, my out the door price for the 2010 Subaru 3.6R (six-cylinder engine adds a few grand) was almost exactly $1000 less than my V6-standard Honda pilot.  So what did I get for that $1000?  Well, fewer miles per gallon, by about 3 mpg real world in the city.  But I don’t really worry about that … it’s a few bucks a week accounting for how much we drive.  I still have both vehicles.  The Honda is my wife’s, but mine on the weekend.  The Subaru is my daily driver.

What benefit did I get in the Honda for my $1000?

— A road-trip vehicle that will comfortably hold me, my wife, my mom, two car seat babies, and a week’s worth of food and clothes.  My Subaru will not do this because it’s about 10 inches narrower in the second row, as well as shorter and stouter.

— A very smooooooth ride.  The Subaru over a speed bump: front=plop, rear=SMASH;  The Honda: front=swoosh, rear=swoosh.  The Honda is unbelievably level in turns, unlike the Subaru that leans noticeably. To be fair, neither is Cadillac smooth over rough roads.

–More local dealers.  There is one Subaru dealer in Vegas and frankly I’m not impressed.  There are four Honda dealers in Vegas, so if one can’t get the job done, I’ll move next door.

— The Honda has no puzzling stall-at-stop-light issue, which has happened twice to the Subaru and cannot be solved. (See: You Tube Video of one of our issues with the Subaru)

— Third row seats. We call this our “people hauler.” There are LATCH car seat anchors in both back rows (five total).  Third row seats are not available in the Outback (not surprising considering it’s based on a sedan platform).

— Rear vents, second and third row – if you have kids this is especially for making sure they are warm or cool enough in their carseats. The second-row vents have separate controls as well though it is hard to see/adjust them from the driver’s seat.

— Door locks are automatic and user-definable.  They lock when I drive, unlock when I stop and put the transmission in park.  There are no automatic door lock on the 2010 Outback, though I’m not sure if this has been added for the 2011 or 2012 model years.  

— Paint job is a few paces ahead of the Subie.  Subie paint is painfully thin and chips easily.  My Mother ran a shopping cart into the Pilot.  A dent resulted, but the paint remained intact, allowing for a paintless repair.  However, the Pilot has been the victim of several rock chips, a problem I haven’t seen nearly as frequently with the Subaru.

— Tow hitch is standard.  Subie will tow 3500lbs, but the hitch install is a huge job and is optional on every trim line.

— Start “button” ignition, i.e. hit the key and release.  I thought this was silly but now I LOVE this and it has ruined me!  What sucker still holds a key???  However, I’m sure I’ll dislike this when the car is older and doesn’t start as reliably.

— Substantially longer maintanence periods.  Subie wanted a 3,750 mile first oil change, for example.  The Pilot has a “maintence minder” that dictates oil changes according to actual vehicle use.  Some people are reporting 8,000 – 10,000 change intervals.  The Honda will go as long as one year between changes, the Subaru will only go 7.5 months, maximum.  Over a 10-year life, that’s $400-$500 worth of extra oil changes.  That’s a car payment plus a tank of gas.  I’ve changed the Subaru’s oil three times so far, with only 9,000 miles on the odometer in less than two years (every 7.5 months).  In the Pilot, I could possibly still be on my first or second change at this point.  That’s $40.00 – $80.00 in real money.  That said, the Subaru 6-cylinder engine has a lifetime timing CHAIN.  The Pilot requires a new timing BELT every now and then, a $500+ job at the dealer or three days in my garage.

What about Subie, what does it do for me?

— Free roadside assistance for 3 years.

— Easier to get in and out of parking spots as it drives like a car.  (It is a car).

— It is the quickest car I have ever owned.  This thing has so much power to spare I can load it for bear, add a top box, and it doesn’t seem to notice.  Push gas, go fast.

— More standard goodies.  The only thing I have really missed in the Honda is steering wheel radio buttons.  But I really miss them.

— Standard alloy wheels.  A step up to alloy on the Pilot would have cost me $2500 and put the Pilot out of the running against the Subie for puposes of this comparison.

—  The interior materials are luxurious by comparison, with substantially better fit and finish.  The Pilot’s interior is cheap looking and marrs easily, with noticeable gaps between some panels.  

In sum, these cars are in the same class by MY COST only and for no other reason.  I moved the Subaru “up” $3000 with the  engine, and I moved the Honda “down” $2500 by going with the cheapest trim line.  Without these moves, a person with a high-20s budget would not be considering both vehicles.  That is, if you demand goodies; navigation, fancy speakers, etc, you will not likely be cross-shopping these vehicles.  The top-of-the-line Honda breaks the $40k mark.  The fully loaded Outback is $8000 or so less.  The short version: if you have or plan to have just two babies, either is great.  If you want more than two, go bigger.  Space runs out quickly, and not just on road trips, but shopping trips, family hauling, etc.  The Honda also comes standard with a trailer hitch, into which I stick this hitch basket from Harbor Freight for longer trips.  

I will gladly plug my Subaru dealer, with absolutely no favor or compensation, Heuberger Motors in Colorado.  They will ship cars anywhere in the country and offer rock-bottom pricing over the Internet.  They will give you everything; dealer incentives, advertising fees, cash back, the best financing rates, etc.  I’m told and believe they make money largely on volume, including volume incentives from Subaru of America.  They beat Subaru of Las Vegas by $3000.  It cost me about $250 to fly out there, spend a night at a hotel, and drive back including gasoline.

With somewhat less enthusiasm (and still no compensation) I will recommend the Internet department at Arrowhead Honda in Phoenix, AZ.  I caught them in a few (pointless, not sure why they would bother) half-truths.  However, in the end, it was the best price I could get anywhere, and they ended up beating the lowest price I could find in Las Vegas by $1400.  I won’t argue with that!  I drove down for the night, visited my mom, and drove back in my new ride.  That said, Findlay Honda in Henderson was the most reasonable local dealer and was actually willing to deal online.  I’ll go there for regular maintenance and warranty work as long as the vehicle is new.  

Note:  There were minor updates to the 2011/2012 Outback and the 2012 Pilot.