Town seeks to dismiss MPA defamation lawsuit

In June, 2021, newly hired Ashley Hunter, owner and CEO of MPA Strategies, announced a $10K International Paper Company grant to the Town. Shown here are, from left: Councilmen Sloan Griffin, Donald Brock, Hunter, Eddie Baughman, Mayor Bryan Franklin and then-Councilman Larry Griffin. Less than a month later, council voted to terminate her contract with the Town. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – The Town of Blythewood and its mayor think a judge should throw out a pending defamation lawsuit the town’s former marketing firm recently filed.

A lawyer for the town and Mayor Bryan Franklin cited what they think are technical and legal grounds in documents filed last week.

“Defendant Town of Blythewood respectfully requests the Court enter an Order dismissing this case with prejudice,” the filings state.

Ashley Hunter, chief executive officer of MPA Strategies, filed the suit January 30 in Richland County Circuit Court.

The suit alleges defamation, breach of contract, civil conspiracy, and negligence.

According to the suit, town leaders falsely claimed Hunter landed the now defunct contract with the town after starting a romantic relationship with a sitting councilman.

Hunter’s lawsuit denies that allegation.

“The basic premise of this lawsuit is that Defendants were party to an effort by the Mayor to suggest that Plaintiff obtained business not based on merit, but instead based on romantic involvement with a Town Councilman,” the suit states.

David Black, the attorney representing Franklin and the town, last week filed motions to dismiss in lieu of a formal response.

Black’s motions argue MPA’s suit should be thrown out on technical grounds. They argue for dismissal because of MPA’s “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

The town argues the defamation claim “does not allege facts sufficient to establish any statement by the Town, or by any individual, for which the Town could be held liable in defamation.”

Blythewood further argues against the allegations by claiming “legislative immunity and sovereign immunity.”

No rulings were made as of press time.

MPA’s lawsuit is separate from litigation Hunter filed in 2021 against the Town, alleging violations of the S.C Freedom of Information Act. Blythewood countersued, alleging fraud, civil conspiracy, negligence/gross negligence, and another misconduct. That suit is also pending.

In addition to the Town and Mayor Franklin, the defamation suit lists as co-defendants; Tonya Page, editor of the Country Chronicle, and Camden Media Company, which owned the Country Chronicle.

Hunter’s suit claimed stories published by the Country Chronicle about her firm’s dealings with the Town were “malicious” and “grossly negligent.”

The suit accuses Page, the editor of the Chronicle, of displaying favoritism toward the mayor in her news stories while simultaneously defaming Hunter’s business.

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