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In an unusual role reversal, a nursing home chain has filed a lawsuit against a law firm that usually sues nursing homes. The chain sought to prevent the firm from publishing materials on a Web site it uses to inform potential clients about nursing home abuse. Genesis HealthCare Corp., which is headquartered in Kennett Square, Pa., and runs 200 centers in 13 states, recently filed a complaint in a West Virginia federal court against the McHugh Fuller Law Group, which has offices in Mississippi and West Virginia. The firm specializes in nursing home abuse, premises liability and personal injury. Genesis v. McHugh Fuller, No. 2-07-CV-00481 ( S.D. W.Va.). Genesis, whose Web site is www.genesishcc.com, sought a temporary restraining order to stop McHugh Fuller from posting information on its Web site, www.genesisconcerns.com. That site includes information about nursing home abuse in general, and alleges that Genesis facilities have had problems during state inspections. The site also includes the firm’s contact information. Genesis raised several concerns in its suit, which alleges defamation, infringement and unfair competition. In court papers, lawyers from Cooper Law Offices in Bridgeport, W.Va., and Fowler White Boggs Banker in Tampa, Fla., who are representing McHugh Fuller, argued that it cannot be held liable for disseminating truthful information, that it is in the public’s interest that potential clients be educated about health inspections and that there is no likelihood of confusing the firm’s Web site for that of the nursing home’s. Michael Fuller, a partner at McHugh Fuller, said he was surprised when he learned about the lawsuit. “Hopefully it won’t end up where firms that are trying to represent people that have been wronged are bullied by these big corporations,” he said. “They may have assumed we would pull down the Web site and go away, but that’s not going to serve the public at all.” Rochelle Brightwell, a partner in the Weirton, W.Va., office of Pittsburgh’s Pietragallo Bosick & Gordon who is representing Genesis, did not return calls requests for comment. The judge denied Genesis’ initial request for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction and allowed it to file amended pleadings. The judge gave McHugh Fuller until Sept. 5 to respond. Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said courts have appropriately allowed law firms to run Web sites providing information and seeking clients. “To go after lawyers is not exactly new in this area, but I think this is likely to go down on the ever-growing list of how not to strike back,” said Olson, author of several books on litigation and legal blogs. Olson mentioned another recent lawsuit, in which a screw maker unsuccessfully sued a law firm because its client-trolling Web site asserted the company’s screws were defective. The Tennessee Supreme Court confirmed that lawyers may publish potentially defamatory material in the quest for prospective clients. Simpson Strong-Time Company v. Stewart, Estes & Donnell, No. M2006-02407-SC-R23-CQ (Tenn.). Thomas J. Brandi of San Francisco’s The Brandi Law Firm, a personal injury firm, said people have the right to know about nursing homes’ mistakes. “Nursing homes are selling the concept that they are safe and that you can trust them to take care of your loved one in a healthy environment,” Brandi said in an e-mail. “Information that shows that not to be the case should be available to the public.”

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