A defamation lawsuit brought by a volunteer photographer against the North Wasco County Parks & Recreation District in 2017 was dismissed last month.
Ashley Lacy had volunteered to take photos at the district’s Daddy/Daughter Dance in early 2017.
After the dance, the district began getting requests for photos from the participants and was having some difficulty obtaining them from Lacy, said Tom Peachey, attorney for the parks district. He did not represent the district in this matter, which was handled by an attorney through the Special Districts Association of Oregon, the insurer for the district.
The district told dance attendees via email that it had been unable to get the photos from Lacy, because she had deleted them. It advised people to contact her directly.
Parks District Executive Director Scott Baker said, “Ashley had asked us to have people get in touch with her directly if they were inquiring about their photos, and so we did direct folks who called or messaged [us] to her, per her request.”
Lacy claimed the email defamed her. She said after it went out her business dropped 90 percent, her daughter was bullied, and she got hate mail and was confronted in grocery stores. She said she had to move out of town to salvage her reputation. She now lives in Colorado.
She sought $98,000 in her suit.
The district filed a motion for summary judgment, saying there was no dispute about the facts and no way for Lacy to prevail, since a truthful statement cannot be defamatory.
“I think that is the core of this, which is that the statement that was made by the district was factual,” Peachey said.
The case was heard by Wasco County Circuit Court Judge John Wolf.
In the email the parks district sent out to dance atendees, it said some parents didn’t like the idea of having photos posted online for people to purchase. Lacy wanted to honor that, the district said, but felt as a volunteer it would be too time-consuming to find that handful of photos among the hundreds taken.
The district said it offered to pay her to look for them, or to have the physical photos only available at the district office.
“Instead she felt it was easier to not release any photos from these events. She feels that the park district did not adequately promote her business at these events, and so she should not have to provide the photos at all. We begged, we pleaded! Unfortunately, Ashley has now deleted the photos,” the email stated.
The district concluded the email by listing Lacy’s contact information for anyone who had further questions.
Lacy had also sued for intentional interference with economic relations and intentional distress. The district argued that there wasn’t a professional relationship between the two, so there was no economic interference, and that it didn’t intentionally cause her harm.
“All the district wanted was for the mothers and fathers and daddies and daughters to be happy and to have the picture to put on the refrigerator,” Peachey said. “And we were unable to do that and were disappointed.”
The district did not have to pay for the defense of the claim, which was covered by the special districts association, Peachey said.
But the cost to the association was substantial, Peachey added. He said it was important to try cases on their merits. The expense of defending a case might be more than it would cost to settle it, but if you settle, you only encourage more claims, he said.
Baker said, “I am pleased that the court carefully reviewed the facts of the case and dismissed Ashley Lacy’s complaint against the district.”
Baker said the district in the past has hired photographers for the Daddy/Daughter dance, and last year used a volunteer to take photos with the participants’ own cameras, which were usually on their phone.
He said the district is considering bringing back a photographer for the upcoming dance, set for April 6.
Lacy could not be reached for comment.