Butterfly Life Founder Loses Lawsuit Over Free Speech

Mark Golob, founder of the women-only Butterfly Life club chain, sued a publisher of a website serving disgruntled franchisees over statements written on the site.

From the Things I Wanted to Write Before Vacation but Didn't Until Now Department:

During the IHRSA show in March, Unhappyfranchisee.com Publisher Sean Kelly emailed me to let me know he was being sued by Mark Golob, founder of the women-only Butterfly Life club chain.

We wrote about Butterfly Life back in 2008 for a cover story on franchisees who were losing their shirts in a relatively short amount of time, including owners of new express models such as Butterfly Life. I talked to both Golob and Kelly for the story, then caught up with Golob later in the year when he refuted rumors that Butterfly Life was going out of business. We reported that Diversified Health bought Butterfly Fitness Inc. in 2009. However, BlueMauMau.org, another website for franchise owners, reported that Butterfly Fitness filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

Golob sued Kelly for $35 million, claiming Kelly's articles that mentioned Golob's "history of litigation" and "checkered past" caused him "grief, pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life."

"When it was pointed out that the statements were made five years past the statute of limitations, he invented a post I supposedly made in January of this year," Kelly told me.

In May, a judge struck down Golob's lawsuit and awarded Kelly attorney's fees and costs. The judge ruled the lawsuit a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), which are lawsuits intended to bully, censor, intimidate and coerce someone into silence about a statement they did not like. A SLAPP is illegal in California, which is where this lawsuit was filed.

Kelly has written about the lawsuit extensively on his website and has all the documents listed there. My requests for comment to Nikolaus Reed, Golob's attorney in the case, were not returned.

"I think this is an important victory for all of us who write and publish," Kelly told me. "It's a valuable message to health club companies to know that this approach backfires."

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