High court to rule on damaging lawyer ads

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The Georgia Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a ban on ads that a prominent Southeast nursing home provider says violated the Georgia Deceptive False Practices Act.

PruittHealth, which operates about 90 nursing homes, successfully sought an injunction against the McHugh Fuller Law Group. The latter had started an inflammatory ad campaign around the state, aimed at people who thought their loved ones might have been neglected or abused at Pruitt facilities.

The ad campaign used PruittHealth's logo and name, along with photos of one of its Georgia facilities, and requested people contact the firm if they “suspect that a loved one was NEGLECTED or ABUSED” or experienced “bedsores,” “unexplained injuries,” and “death.”

The Deceptive False Practices Act authorizes injunctions if there is even a “likelihood” that use of a company's trademark or name will injure the reputation of the owner, Pruitt's lawyers pointed out.

The McHugh group is claiming its First Amendment rights were violated and that the injunction was hasty and overly broad. The injunction was put in place after an interim hearing, before discovery was allowed to be conducted, the law firm complains.

Last year, McHugh Fuller prevailed in a similar Supreme Court case involving an ad focused on Pruitt's Toccoa, GA, facility, when an injunction was struck down due to procedural error. The state's highest court heard arguments in the current case on April 27. 

Originally, a trial court entered a temporary restraining order against the McHugh Group.

On June 1, 2015, the trial court issued a permanent injunction, stopping the law firm from using Pruitt's trade names, logo or other service marks. McHugh appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, claiming, in part, that Pruitt's reputation and service marks had not been devalued by the ads.