Christopher Maloney and the lawsuit that almost was

Christopher Maloney, Q.E. - Quack Extraordinaire. via

We all know Christopher Maloney by now. He is the quack who, in conjunction with Andreas Moritz, worked to get my site shut down in February 2010. They were both upset that I had called them quacks, among a variety of other derogatory names, so they put forth their best efforts and succeeded in quieting FTSOS for 6 days. Of course, the Internet came to the rescue, worsening their lives while making the world a safer place. Once FTSOS came back online, things should have died down given a little bit of time. But of course, that didn’t happen. And it was their fault.

Moritz had little chirps here and there, but he eventually slunk away. Maloney, on the other hand, went on a crusade. He created a series of pages on his site well after the fact, responded to every critical post he could find in the world, and even started stirring the pot in threads on PZ’s site that had nothing to do with him. Then, eight months after the fact, he sent PZ a cease and desist notice. Of course, that just made things worse for him. A few months later, I got a similar notice. Following PZ’s lead, I uploaded the notice, called Maloney a quack, and went on with my day.

What did I mean then, and what do I mean now, by saying Christopher Maloney is a quack? Simply this: I mean that Christopher Maloney openly and aggressively promotes naturopathy, a bogus and unscientific ‘discipline’. Regrettably, it’s a bogus and unscientific discipline that the State of Maine sees fit to license. That’s as embarrassing as if Maine licensed astrologers. I’ve repeatedly written about why naturopathy is bunk, and why Christopher Maloney’s advocacy of it is quackery. As I’ve specifically said before, I’m sure Christopher Maloney is qualified in the eyes of the State of Maine to practice naturopathy – it’s just appalling that the state endorses such things, and appalling that Maloney promotes such bunk.

Move forward several more months and I get a second letter delivered to me. This one is actually threatening a lawsuit. (In fact, its vague wording led me to believe that it had actually been filed, but that was not the case. See a pdf of the lawsuit here.) I needed a lawyer.

Enter Ken White of Brown, White, & Newhouse, LLP and the law blog Popehat.

Like the call for Batman but with fewer gadgets and more resultant paperwork. Neat, though.

I contacted Ken because, while I could amply respond to the logical mistakes and factual errors that were strewn throughout the lawsuit for the sake of a blog post, I am not a lawyer. I don’t know the actual legal procedures involved, nor would it be prudent for me to defend myself alone anyway. Originally I was only seeking Ken’s help to put me in touch with people who could help me at reduced rates – I’m responsible with my money, but that doesn’t mean I have it laying around for lawyer fees – but to my delight, he offered his services pro bono.

Ken also recruited prominent First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza. (I dare say, the man has more than a little kick and a little zest to his words. I love it.) I also sought out local counsel in case push came to shove and Maloney actually filed suit; Ken and Marc are both located out of state, so a Maine-based lawyer was necessary. I found and secured the help of Jed Davis, a Princeton and Yale man, of Mitchell & Davis. Needless to say, I had a heck of a team.

So let’s get the heart of the matter. Maloney and his lawyer/wife/state representative Maeghan Maloney sent me a lawsuit, ready to be filed with the courts, claiming I had committed libel and defamed Christopher. When I saw this, I thought the heart of the matter would be that either 1) I have called him a quack or 2) I have said he is not a doctor by scientific standards, but that there have been times when I haven’t explicitly spelled every bit of that out (i.e., I just left it at saying he isn’t a doctor). Number one is obviously a false premise for a libel suit. As Ken wrote in a post about Maloney’s threat to PZ, the term “quack” is protected opinion under the First Amendment in the way I used it. Number two, which I suppose would have been their strongest route, would have been dismissible on grounds that it ignores the context of FTSOS and the fact that I have acknowledged that Maloney is a “doctor” by Maine state standards in plenty of places.

No Habla Español

So which was it? Well, the first one. Sort of. See, the Maloneys were confused. While Maeghan did display a tremendously awful understanding of the law, arguing that the term “quack” is not protected because it implies her husband is unqualified to be a naturopath (it doesn’t, and I’m sure he is qualified to be a naturopath; it doesn’t take much to be a quack, after all), she and her husband also argued that I had been harassing the guy for 2 years. Two straight years. How is that, you ask? Well, first we need to get a fundamental misunderstanding of the Internet under our belts.

They were under the impression that the Tag Cloud widget I had on the side of FTSOS was something I maintained and tended to every day. They believed it was something I was actively messing with in order to manipulate Google searches for “Christopher Maloney Maine” under 24 hour searches. (It took forever to get them to specify that they were talking about 24 hour searches, not regular searches.) Of course, this is silly. A Tag Cloud is an automated feature common to virtually all blogs, including Maloney’s. (I checked his theme and it is an option for him.) Moreover, with or without the widget, a regular Google search showed a whole host of sites, some with and some without it, before mine.

It seems serendipitous that this happens to be a duck.

As it turns out, the widget was probably affecting 24 hour searches. But not in the way the Maloneys thought. If I made a post and someone searched “Christopher Maloney Maine” with the quotations, my blog with that new post would show up. But of course, that post had nothing to do with Maloney. In fact, a search of his name will show that I have only written about him three times this entire year before today. It was delusional of them to believe I was obsessing over the quack every day for two years straight. They simply did not understand the technology at hand. And despite this, it was the primary premise for their lawsuit (making their case more about harassment than defamation, but whatever – they were wrong either way).

But let’s get down to the actual law aspects. As I said, they were claiming that by calling Maloney a quack, I was implying that he was unfit to practice naturopathy under his licensure. Since the state of Maine says otherwise, and since I don’t have any basis for disagreeing, that would be a false statement on my part. If the law worked in weird and inconsistent ways like this, they might have a case. But as a simple Google search would have shown them, they didn’t know what they were talking about. From Ken’s post:

I wonder whether, before sending her feckless and thuggish missive, Meaghan Maloney researched how courts have treated the word “quack” in defamation cases. I did. It took me about five minutes to learn that multiple courts in multiple states in multiple decades have found that calling someone a “quack” is protected opinion and not subject to a defamation suit, particularly when the context shows that it is hyperbole. Yiamouyiannis v. Thompson, 764 S.W.2d 338 (TX 1989) (calling an opponent of flouridation and vaccines a “quack” was pure opinion protected by the First Amendment); Dowling v. Livingstone, 108 Mich. 321 (1896) (it was opinion, not defamation, to refer to an anti-immigration scheme as a “quack remedy”); Gonzalez v Gray, 69 F.Supp.2d 561 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (husband’s claim that his wife had been having “sex with a quack” was opinion, not defamation against the doctor); Spelson v. CBS, INC., 581 F.Supp. 1195 (N.D. IL 1984) (statement that “nutritionist” treating cancer patients with “vitamins, minerals, and extracts of raw animal organs” was a “cancer quack” was protected opinion). In the rare cases where courts have not protected terms like “quack,” they were used in a context specifically suggesting untrue facts. See, e.g., Nasr v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 632 F.Supp.1024 (E.D. IL 1986) (though calling a doctor a “quack” has been found to be protected opinion, when used in manner suggesting false underlying facts, it was actionable). Courts have made similar findings regarding other epithets, including “charlatan.” Ernst v. Basset, 521 So.2d 414 (La. 1988) (“charlatan” was non-actionable statement of opinion).

In other words, there is at least 125 years worth of case law on not merely libel/defamation cases, but on libel/defamation cases specifically dealing with the word “quack”.

I gather some might consider it bad form to quote any of the communications had amongst the lawyers involved, so I will only paraphrase the wonderfulness of our response. Essentially, it was 10 pages of this: “No, fuck you, and if you sue, we’ll file an Anti-SLAPP motion, seeking attorney fees, and maybe sue you and your lawyer for malicious prosecution.” And while the lawyers were at it, I was ready to make this a public spectacle all over again. I had already secured a promise of help from Simon Singh. It would only have been a matter of hours before the Internet was once again buzzing with “Christopher Maloney is a quack”.

So the result? Well, Maloney wanted a settlement which stipulated that I would remove all tags of him from FTSOS, that I wouldn’t speak of him again in practically any writing, that I would delete all my past writings about him, and that I would pay his attorney fees incurred to this point. There was never any chance of me signing away my rights like that. In fact, there was a deadline placed on the attached agreement which I fully ignored before I was even able to obtain legal assistance. I may not know all the procedures involved, but I know I like my First Amendment rights. (I admit, though, it was tempting to find out just what it was Maloney’s wife had charged him for fees.) But once I did obtain assistance, I realized the value of throwing out a minor gesture of good will to avoid the nuisance of litigation. I know, I know. It’s so unlike me. Actually, I did try to just completely say no to the idea. A man who threatens me with a frivolous lawsuit deserves nothing.

But as I said, I am not a lawyer.

The best course of action, I came to understand, would be to avoid litigation all together. While all the case law and common sense is on my side, and while we would almost certainly prevail in both fighting the lawsuit and our subsequent malicious prosecution suit, the law is an uncertain thing. A judge unimpressed by a young-looking 20-something who has a couple of high-priced out of state lawyers may decide a (lawless) lesson needs to be taught. It’s unlikely, but certainly possible. Moreover, while these lawyers are generally high priced (at least in my world), they were doing the work pro-bono. They were there to assist me whatever my decision, but if a gesture of good will would get all of this put behind me while I still retained all my rights, then it would save everyone a lot of trouble.

I find it entertaining that this image even exists.

So the gesture of good will. Well, as I said, the Maloneys believed the Tag Cloud was something I was messing around with every day for the sake of tormenting some guy I’d never met (despite his invitation and subsequent refusal to actually meet in person). It wasn’t, but if that’s what they believed, then I decided to just offer to take it down. But nothing more. The thing really meant nothing to me, frankly, so it was no loss, and it was actually a reasonable offer. I clean up my site a bit and retain every single one of my rights. If that’s all it was going to take to make this nuisance go away, then great.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that straight forward.

At our offering of the removal, Maloney and Maloney came back with settlements that included ridiculous things like the effective silencing I mentioned (removing all tags, never writing of him again, etc). At one point they wanted to create a system where a third party arbitrator would be used to settle any future disagreements – and the costs of all that would be split. We refused each time. Eventually things came to a clear impasse. This was all being done under a tolling agreement in the first place, and that was about to expire. The Maloneys wanted to extend the agreement and continue negotiations, but there was no point. I would do no more than remove an inconsequential widget from my blog. If that wasn’t good enough, they were more than welcomed to sue. It would have been a delight to watch the Internet light up over an alt-med ‘doctor’ and his elected wife suing a college student over what amounted to a little name calling. My attorneys made it plain that we were locked and loaded and ready to fight.

So the Maloneys caved.

I agreed to take down the widget, but every single post about Christopher Maloney, every single tag of Christopher Maloney, and every single opinion I have ever expressed about Christopher Maloney remains. And none of it is going anywhere.

Ultimately, this is a good outcome. Sure, the ideal would be a big middle finger and nothing more, but this has all taken a bigger toll on me and my time than I thought it would. I work overnights and go to school full-time. My sleep schedule is just awful and my courses are not simple. The spring is shaping up to be even more difficult. My instincts tell me to be as pugnacious as always, but my preference for doing well in organic chemistry is stronger. I’m happy with the result, and I can’t thank Ken, Marc, and Jed enough.

P.s., Christopher Maloney is a quack.

19 Responses

  1. Thank you to Simon Singh for already Tweeting this. Much appreciated.!/SLSingh

  2. […] Science, and the adversary is Dr. Christopher Maloney, a licensed naturopath in Maine. You can read Michael Hawkins’ account of the case here. This is my […]

  3. It was a genuine pleasure to work with you on this, Michael.

    My take on the case is here:

  4. Boy Michael, your life is just like a John Grisham novel without all the espionage.

  5. Would it be overly mean if I were to suggest that every instance of this quack’s name should be replaced with some hyperlinks directing towards ?

    Also, greetings from Popehat.

  6. Excellent work Michael, if there was a Lifetime channel for first Amendment cases, you’d have a script to pitch.

    Congratulations, old bean. I’m glad to see freedom won today.

  7. Ha ha! Ducked just like a quack! It was prophesied. ;)

    Scary reality of Google included.

    I remember wget’ing most of Without Apology back when the quacks attacked you through your cowardly blog hosting service. It’s good to see that you, teh Popehat, and company dropped the hammer on the Maloneys’ quackitude.


  8. Michael, I found you by way of ‘Butterflies and Wheels’. You have given me something to smile about today.

    It is puzzling that Maloney would be sooo offended by the word ‘quack’. It is accurate, if hyperbolic. It’s not as if you wrote “He’s just a bag of dishonest rubbish”. Now, THAT’S an insult. Oh, maybe not. It’s possible that Mr. Rubbish has received the closest thing to a compliment that he deserves. Maloney should be so lucky.

    Thanks for providing some interesting information. I hadn’t known that Maine licenses quacks for being Naturopaths, such as Christopher Maloney.

  9. I think it speaks volumes of our law system that it actually needed to be a concern for you that a judge “may decide a (lawless) lesson needs to be taught.” I guess that would be a battle for another day. Congrats buddy!

  10. […] Maloney has lost.  For the details of what transpired you’re probably best off reading Mr Hawkins’ blog on the topic, and/or that of his lawyer, Ken […]

  11. Incidentally, since I know Christopher and plenty of others are reading this, the pingback from the blog Bastard Sheep two posts above this one? It has a tag cloud as well. Guess whose name is on it.

    Maybe everyone is manually manipulating their blogs just to harass this one guy.

  12. M.A. (Mike),

    It is unfortunate that such may have happened, but on the flip side of the coin I think it speaks excellent volumes of our legal system that there are people like Ken and Marc and Jed around to ensure real justice.

  13. Well I’m glad you offered them a bone (cleaning up the tag cloud) even if they were bullies. You gotta consider a possibility that for the doctor, homeopathy is not “bogus science”, but rather, “alternative medicine”. Did you ever consider that the man may have a sincere desire to help people, and perhaps has (helped people)? Never underestimate the power of a placebo! I have no doubt that if you have a sincere, homeopathic practitioner treating a patient who believes in him, he may be able to work miracles, just as shaman and medicine men have done since the dawn of time.

    Of course homeopathy is “bogus science”, but not necessarily bogus medicine. Now that this is over for you, I think why can’t we all just get along, and isn’t there room in this world for people with different beliefs, etc. but then I remember how this began for you – with a threat from some very powerful people. Of course you wouldn’t have warm fuzzy feelings about just getting along after that! So in the end, I have to agree that you had to stand up to the bullies, and they got what they deserved, so I don’t know what I’m really trying to say here, but obviously I was moved to speak just the same.

  14. I have no doubt Maloney is sincere in his belief. I even noted as much in my letter to the editor about him. But that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to practice any form of medicine or charge anyone anything for health-related services as a naturopath.

  15. […] friend Michael Hawkins has recently had some legal involvement with a naturopath who practices his trade in Augusta, Maine. I use the term “trade” […]

  16. Good for you Michael! I was sued by a quack veterinarian in San Antonio in 2005 (he had killed my cat in 1999, and slimed his way out of accountability at the state board level), and after years of the most nightmarish legal b.s. you can imagine, we FINALLY got his signed settlement agreement in January of 2009. He had served me initially with a temporary injunction (which I was rightly instructed to ignore by my attorney) and of course the judge tossed it as unconstitutional. But the prick wouldn’t stop, and appealed the verdict. Of course the appellate court kicked him to the curb as well, but he STILL wouldn’t stop. He wanted a permanent injunction and spent years and probably more than $100K trying to get it. Like you, I had the great fortune of having fantastic attorneys who worked pro bono because this was a First Amendment/ David and Goliath scenario if there ever was one. This “doctor” is filthy rich and thought his money would somehow overturn the constitution.

    But here’s the punch line: The night before trial, HIS lawyers called mine and wanted to settle! HE was the plaintiff, right? and HE wanted to settle. Like you, we were locked and loaded and ready for trial the next morning, with my testifying expert from Texas A&M ready to explain exactly how and why what this guy had done to my cat was 87 kinds of WRONG (he had no expert because to this day, no vet anywhere can explain what he did).

    So after tearing my life apart in every way imaginable, including two insane depositions, threats to be jailed for contempt, etc. THE COWARD RUNS LIKE A LITTLE GIRL lol.

    Of course my site survived just fine, and now – on top of what he did to my cat- I am able to tell the world how he came after me with three scumsucking lawyers in a hideous SLAPP suit (he also sued me for slander in conjunction with my testimony to a Senate committee in Austin, in addition to the libel suit for my site) and that at the eleventh hour – HE RAN. I was telling the truth, and he knew it.

    Aaarrgh – these bullies are so incredibly stoooopid it defies reason.

    Congrats again – and as I say on my site: “I will never forget. I will never be silenced.”

    p.s. At the time I was sued, at least a half dozen other people were also being sued by veterinarians either for their web sites or for filing a complaint with the state vet board. It’s calmed down a bit now – I think these creeps figured out it was a lost cause, and a very expensive one at that.

  17. p.s. If anybody wants to read my take on the Texas SLAPP lawsuit that QUACK vet Edward J. Nichols of Crestway Animal Clinic filed against me, go to my blog, Suki’s Safe Haven,, and click on “The Lawsuit.” He is not only a quack. He is a stupid quack.

  18. Maloney is an idiot. Today I was trying to find potassium levels in a certain product I drink……( because my board certified, college graduate, medical doctor and physician asked me to )…. when I came across Maloney’s blog:
    He ingested 5 ounces instead of the recommended 1 ounce and gave a bad review…..because he is listed as a ‘doctor’ in the great, all knowing state of Maine…..I guess we are all supposed to take the naturoidiot’s recommendations…..
    I am NOT a naturaopathic person. Good medicine usually trumps eating berries and wiping manure on your skin, yet I continue to take this product he ‘evaluated’ and I have been for around 7 years now. Though I cannot drink it on an empty stomach due to the ache, I know many people who can. This privately owned company (now called Havvn) produces some of the best supplements on the market including a full line of truly chemical free skin care that my family loves. I am sure that the sales rep never told Maloney any kind of baloney (i’m a poet – not a speller….lol) that he could walk on water, or heal the sick if he took the product…..Maloney was an idiot in 2011 and I am sure he still is today. People like Maloney are the reason that our children are stupid these days. Hey Maloney – go take five ounces of cyanide now and do us all a favor.

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