The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is fighting back against a Maine hospital that threatened to file a defamation lawsuit in response to a 15-year-old’s op-ed which called attention to patient safety concerns at the hospital.
Samson Cournane, then 14, wrote a Change.org petition in September 2022 addressed to Rep. Jared Golden regarding patient safety concerns at the Northern Light Health’s Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine.
Dr. Anne Yered, his mother and a pediatric intensive care doctor, was fired from the same hospital in June 2022 after she raised concerns about patient safety.
While Dr. Yered was working to resolve her wrongful termination lawsuit without litigation, her son was researching news articles and watchdog reports on safety issues at the hospital.
In October 2022, Samson, who is in his junior studying computer science at the University of Maine, submitted a letter to the editor in the university’s student newspaper urging readers to sign his petition.
The hospital’s parent corporation, Northern Light Health, then threatened to sue Dr. Yered for defamation based on Samson’s petition and op-ed, claiming that Dr. Yered had written both.
“The conglomerate’s threat to file a meritless lawsuit is a classic example of a strategic lawsuit against public participation — a ‘SLAPP’ for short,” FIRE wrote in a Wednesday press release.
Maine is one of more than 30 states that has enacted anti-SLAPP statutes to protect the freedom of speech.
“In a SLAPP suit, an individual or entity drags a speaker into an expensive court proceeding to shut them up,” said FIRE senior attorney Jay Diaz. “It’s nothing more than censorship by lawsuit.”
“Young people have free speech rights just like everyone else,” said Samson. “I have the right to stand up and speak my mind without being bullied into silence.”
FIRE sent a letter Wednesday to an attorney for Northern Light Health demanding that the hospital retract its threat of a lawsuit.
“We will not tolerate any further threat to silence Samson’s protected advocacy,” Diaz wrote in the demand letter.
“But litigation here is as unnecessary as it is unwise,” the demand letter reads. “Your clients must abandon their attempts to censor and end the unjust chilling of Samson’s protected speech.”
FIRE is demanding that Northern Light Health and Eastern Maine Medical Center provide a written statement disavowing any attempt to sue based on Samson’s advocacy for pediatric-patient safety by Sept. 1, 2023.
“Our client may be named Samson, but this is a case of David vs. Goliath,” said FIRE attorney James Jordan. “If a powerful corporation would threaten to sue a teenager into silence, they’ll do it to anyone.”
Northern Light Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on FIRE’s demand letter.