Law Offices of David Freydin v. Victoria Chamara, No. 18-3216 (7th Cir. 2022)

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Justia Opinion Summary

In 2017, Freydin, a Chicago lawyer, posed a question on Facebook: “Did Trump put Ukraine on the travel ban list?! We just cannot find a cleaning lady!” After receiving online criticism for the comment, Freydin doubled down. People angered by Freydin’s comments went to his law firm’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages and left reviews that expressed their negative views of Freydin. Various defendants made comments including: An “embarrassment and a disgrace to the US judicial system,” “unethical and derogatory,” “hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” “racist,” “no right to practice law,” “not professional,” “discriminates [against] other nationalities,” do not “waste your money.,” “Freydin is biased and unprofessional attorney,” “terrible experience,” “awful customer service,” “disrespect[],” and “unprofessional[ism].” None of the defendants had previously used Freydin’s legal services.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Freydin’s suit, which alleged libel per se, “false light,” tortious interference with contractual relationships, tortious interference with prospective business relationships, and civil conspiracy. None of the reviews contained statements that are actionable as libel per se under Illinois law; each was an expression of opinion that could not support a libel claim. Freyding did not link the civil conspiracy claims to an independently viable tort claim.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 18-3216 LAW OFFICES OF DAVID FREYDIN, P.C. and DAVID FREYDIN, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. VICTORIA CHAMARA, et al., Defendants-Appellees. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:17-cv-08034 — Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge. ____________________ SUBMITTED SEPTEMBER 9, 2021 * — DECIDED JANUARY 28, 2022 ____________________ Before KANNE, HAMILTON, and ST. EVE, Circuit Judges. HAMILTON, Circuit Judge. This appeal presents issues under Illinois defamation law as applied to negative reviews posted on a business’s social media pages. The rst issue is whether any of the reviews contained statements that are * We granted the parties’ joint motion to waive oral argument for this case. 2 No. 18-3216 actionable as libel per se under Illinois law. They did not; each statement was an expression of opinion that could not support a libel claim. Second, plainti s did not allege viable claims for civil conspiracy because plainti s have not linked their civil conspiracy claims to an independently viable tort claim. Third, plainti s have not shown that the district court erred by not allowing them to amend their complaint. Plainti s did not explain how they thought they could cure the problems with their complaint until their appellate reply brief, which was much too late. We a rm the district court’s dismissal of this action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. I. Factual Background A. The Facebook Post and the Responding Reviews On a late September day in 2017, David Freydin, a Chicago lawyer, posed a question on Facebook: “Did Trump put Ukraine on the travel ban list?! We just cannot nd a cleaning lady!” After receiving online criticism for this odd and o ensive comment, Freydin doubled down in the comments section: My business with Ukrainians will be done when they stop declaring bankruptcies. If this o ends your national pride, I suggest you look for underlying causes of why 9 out of 10 cleaning ladies we’ve had were Ukrainian and 9 out of 10 of my law school professors were not. Until then, if you don’t have a recommendation for a No. 18-3216 3 cleaning lady, feel free to take your comments somewhere else. 1 As sometimes happens on social media, things escalated quickly. People angered by Freydin’s comments went to his law rm’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages. They left reviews that expressed their negative views of Freydin. These reviews ranged from simple one-star ratings to detailed comments about Freydin’s “hatred and disrespect towards the Ukrainian nation….” Defendant Victoria Chamara’s one-star rating contained the longest commentary. Chamara called Freydin an “embarrassment and a disgrace to the US judicial system,” referred to his comments as “unethical and derogatory,” and labeled him a “hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” and “racist” who “has no 1 This comment and Freydin’s initial question are not included in plaintiffs’ complaint. We may still consider them in reviewing the grant of a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Parts of the complaint referred to these comments. For instance, one review left by a defendant said: “His unethical and derogatory comments, which target one particular nation–Ukrainians, show who he really is …. He does not hide his hatred and disrespect towards the Ukrainian nation on his personal FB page.” Given this reference and others, we include Freydin’s comments for the sake of completeness. Just as a plaintiff cannot prevent a court from considering parts of a contract that doom her claim by including in the complaint only the parts of a contract that support her side, a party’s selection of part of a chain of communication does not prevent the court from considering the entire chain. Cf. Community Bank of Trenton v. Schnuck Markets, Inc., 887 F.3d 803, 809 n.2 (7th Cir. 2018) (in reviewing grant of motion to dismiss, “we cannot consider in isolation just those contractual provisions that plaintiffs find helpful”); Fed. R. Evid. 106 (rule of completeness). In addition, plaintiffs did not object on appeal to the consideration of these two comments by Freydin, and even incorporated the comments in their reply brief. 4 No. 18-3216 right to practice law.” Other defendants were more concise. Defendant Tetiana Kravchuk said that Freydin “is not professional” and “discriminates [against] other nationalities,” and she told people not to “waste your money,” while defendant Anastasia Shmotolokha wrote that “Freydin is biased and unprofessional attorney.” These statements from Kravchuk and Shmotolokha also accompanied one-star ratings. Defendant Nadia Romenets gave the Law O ces of David Freydin a onestar rating but did not provide any additional comments. And various one-star ratings from John Doe defendants complained of “terrible experience,” “awful customer service,” “disrespect[],” and “unprofessional[ism].” None of the defendants had previously used Freydin’s legal services. B. Procedural History Freydin and his law rm sued defendants for these comments and reviews under several legal theories, none of which the district court found viable. Those theories encompassed ve torts under Illinois state law: (1) libel per se, (2) “false light,” (3) tortious interference with contractual relationships, (4) tortious interference with prospective business relationships, and (5) civil conspiracy. Each theory faced signi cant hurdles to relief. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss all claims. On the libel theory, the court deemed the comments “defamatory per se” because they fell under the per se category of “prejudice to a person in his profession.” But since the comments were all opinions, they all had the bene t of an a rmative defense and were not actionable under the First Amendment. The next three claims were unsuccessful because essential elements of the claims were missing. Plainti s did not allege speci c damages necessary for false light invasion of No. 18-3216 5 privacy. For tortious interference with contractual and business relationships, plainti s did not identify contracts or prospective business relationships damaged by defendants’ actions. Plainti s’ civil conspiracy claims failed because they were not supported by any independent tort. The district court dismissed the complaint but did not enter judgment and dismiss the civil action itself. Two weeks later, plainti s led a motion asking the district court to clarify whether the dismissal was with or without prejudice. If it was without prejudice, plainti s sought the opportunity to amend the complaint to remedy the de ciencies. Plainti s did not attach a copy of an amended complaint to the motion to clarify or indicate how an amended complaint would remedy the de ciencies. At a status hearing on the motion, plainti s’ lawyer said more of the same, with only a slight alteration: he added that plainti s wanted to “amend our pleading” with information from a parallel state court action that would “add some … additional factual allegations.” Again, plainti s did not indicate what those additional factual allegations would entail. At the status hearing, the district judge denied plainti s’ request to amend the complaint. He said: “I think that this case should end now, so the motion is denied.” The judge later clari ed in a written docket entry that this decision on the motion to amend was the nal decision that started the clock for ling a timely appeal. The district court never issued a separate Rule 58 nal judgment ending the case. Plainti s Freydin and his law rm now appeal the district court’s dismissal of their claims for libel per se and civil conspiracy, and they challenge the denial of their motion to amend the complaint. 6 No. 18-3216 II. Appellate Jurisdiction Before reaching the merits, we must address our appellate jurisdiction. “The lack of a separate, nal Rule 58 judgment makes the appellate jurisdiction picture messier than necessary.” Sterling National Bank v. Block, 984 F.3d 1210, 1216 (7th Cir. 2021). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58(a) requires: “Every judgment and amended judgment must be set out in a separate document ….” As a formal matter, a separate Rule 58 judgment “keeps jurisdictional lines clear.” Wisconsin Central Ltd. v. TiEnergy, LLC, 894 F.3d 851, 854 (7th Cir. 2018). But it is not a “prerequisite to appealing” if “the judgment really is nal within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291.” Borrero v. City of Chicago, 456 F.3d 698, 699–700 (7th Cir. 2006). A judgment is nal within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291 “if the district court has otherwise indicated its intent to nally dispose of all claims.” Wisconsin Central, 894 F.3d at 854; see also Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp. v. Moore, 446 F.3d 725, 726 (7th Cir. 2006) (“The test is not the adequacy of the judgment but whether the district court has nished with the case.”). Here, the district judge signaled su ciently his intent to be nished with this case. For one, when ruling on the motion to amend at the status hearing, he said: “I think that this case should end now, so the motion is denied.” He continued: “as of right now, I’ll dismiss [the case] with prejudice as of now so that—just to clarify your appeal period.” The docket entry summarizing these proceedings said: “Plainti ’s request to le an amended complaint is denied. Plainti ’s complaint is dismissed with prejudice as of September 26, 2018,” which was the date of the status hearing. The reference to dismissal of the complaint rather than the entire civil action was imprecise, but all of these statements, together with the district No. 18-3216 7 court’s earlier opinion granting the motion to dismiss, lead us to the “common sense conclusion that the district court intended to enter a nal judgment.” Sterling National Bank, 984 F.3d at 1216 (internal quotation marks omitted). We have jurisdiction over this appeal. III. The Motion to Dismiss Turning now to the merits, we review de novo a grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Warciak v. Subway Restaurants, Inc., 949 F.3d 354, 356 (7th Cir. 2020). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain enough factual content to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible “when the plainti pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In Iqbal, the Court emphasized that “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. We review the complaint in the light most favorable to plainti s and accept all well-pleaded facts as true. Huon v. Denton, 841 F.3d 733, 738 (7th Cir. 2016). This case falls within the federal courts’ diversity jurisdiction over state-law claims since the parties served with process satisfy the complete-diversity and amount-in-controversy requirements, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and Illinois law governs. Huon, 841 F.3d at 738 (applying Illinois law to defamation claim in federal diversity action). We rst address the plainti s’ claims for libel per se and then their civil conspiracy claims. 8 No. 18-3216 A. Libel Per Se To state a claim for defamation, a “plainti must present facts showing that the defendant made a false statement about the plainti , the defendant made an unprivileged publication of that statement to a third party, and that this publication caused damages.” Solaia Technology, LLC v. Specialty Publishing Co., 852 N.E.2d 825, 839 (Ill. 2006). There are ve categories of statements that are defamatory per se, where harm or damages are presumed without speci c proof. Those are words imputing to a person: (1) commission of a crime, (2) a “loathsome communicable disease,” (3) a person’s inability to perform or lack of integrity in performing employment duties, (4) adultery or fornication, and last, (5) that the person lacks ability in his profession or the words otherwise prejudice the person in his profession. Id. If a statement falls into any one of those categories, it is considered defamatory per se. Here, all the reviews in question fall under the fth category—prejudice to a person in his profession—and the district court correctly deemed them defamatory per se. A statement may be defamatory per se and still not be actionable if an a rmative defense applies. Illinois law has four a rmative defenses, one of which is relevant here: the expression of an opinion. See, e.g., Solaia Technology, 852 N.E.2d at 839 (a defamatory per se statement “may enjoy constitutional protection as expression of opinion”). Defendants assert that all of their comments were statements of opinion that are not actionable. We agree. 2 2 Since we agree with defendants that their comments are non-actionable statements of opinion, we decline to decide whether any of their comments are protected under the innocent-construction rule. No. 18-3216 9 B. Statements of Opinion The comments made by defendants are not actionable because they were statements of opinion. Whether a statement is an opinion or assertion of fact is a question of law. Moriarty v. Greene, 732 N.E.2d 730, 740 (Ill. App. 2000), citing Owen v. Carr, 497 N.E.2d 1145, 1148 (Ill. 1986). To aid in this legal determination, courts ask: (1) whether the statement “has a precise and readily understood meaning;” (2) whether the statement is factually veri able; and (3) whether the “literary or social context signals that [the statement] has factual content.” Solaia Technology, 852 N.E.2d at 840. “The test is restrictive: a defamatory statement is constitutionally protected only if it cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating actual fact.” Id., citing Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting Corp., 607 N.E.2d 201, 208 (Ill. 1992). “[B]ut if it is plain that the speaker is expressing a subjective view, an interpretation, a theory, conjecture, or surmise, rather than claiming to be in possession of objectively veri able facts, the statement is not actionable.” Haynes v. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 8 F.3d 1222, 1227 (7th Cir. 1993), citing Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1, 17–21 (1990). Plainti s Freydin and his law rm point to “terrible experience,” “awful customer service,” and “don’t waste your money” as examples of implied statements of fact contained in the reviews. We do not read them that way. First, the statements do not have precise and readily understood speci c meanings. Granted, they are easily understood phrases in the English language. But there are numerous reasons why someone may have had a “terrible experience” or suggest that a product or service would be a “waste of money.” Without additional details, the use of these phrases cannot be understood to be “precise.” Cf. Hopewell v. Vitullo, 701 N.E.2d 99, 104 (Ill. 10 No. 18-3216 App. 1998) (“‘[I]ncompetent’ is an easily understood term, [but] its broad scope renders it lacking the necessary detail for it to have a precise and readily understood meaning.”). Second, none of the statements can be objectively veri ed as true or false. How could a third-party observer gauge whether the commentator received awful customer service, for instance, by just reading a one-star review that says “Terrible experience. Awful customer service”? What objective indicator de nes whether a given customer service experience was good or bad? Or whether a service or good was worth the money? Cf. Sullivan v. Conway, 157 F.3d 1092, 1097 (7th Cir. 1998) (“It would be unmanageable to ask a court, in order to determine the validity of the defendants’ defense of truth, to determine whether ‘in fact’ Sullivan is a poor lawyer.”). This review, like the others, stated a non-actionable opinion. More fundamental, we must consider the particular social context of these online reviews and what it may signal about their contents. The defendants posted their reviews on Freydin’s Law O ce’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages, which invite un ltered comments. We trust that readers of online reviews are skeptical about what they read, both positive and negative. But it is enough in this case that these short reviews did not purport to provide any factual foundation and were clearly meant to express the opinions of the defendants in response to Freydin’s insults to Ukrainians generally. Plainti s challenge this conclusion by arguing that the defendants’ reviews falsely implied that the reviewers had actually used Freydin’s legal services. In plainti s’ view, leaving a review in these internet forums implies that the reviewer had a direct consumer relationship with the reviewee (or here, a client-lawyer interaction). To put it di erently, plainti s No. 18-3216 11 argue we should determine that a defendant did not actually receive “awful customer service” because she never received any services at all. This approach con icts with how courts typically think of libel per se claims. The point is not whether the individual commentator had a direct consumer relationship with the business that she reviewed. Rather, we ask if a reader could understand whether the reviewer was expressing opinions or facts. The comments in this case fall clearly on the side of opinion. There may be several reasons why someone had a bad experience with a business that have nothing to do with a direct-consumer relationship. Here, some of the defendants were responding to Freydin’s personal Facebook posts and chose to express these views on his law o ce’s pages. Next time it could be an opposing lawyer who chose to review Freydin in a negative light because of a bad experience against him in court. We do not see a reason why the comments from defendants in this case or the hypothetical opposing lawyer should be construed as actionable libel merely because they did not have a direct consumer relationship with Freydin or his rm (assuming the three opinion factors did not indicate otherwise). Along this line, plainti s contend that “hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” and “racist” as used here by Chamara were not statements of opinion. We have explained why we view these reviews as statements of opinion. More generally, Illinois defamation law treats comments of this nature as actionable when based on identi able conduct but as non-actionable when stated in general terms, without asserting speci c factual support. See Solaia Technology, 852 N.E.2d at 841; Pease v. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, 567 N.E.2d 614, 12 No. 18-3216 619 (Ill. App. 1991); accord, La Liberte v. Reid, 966 F.3d 79, 93 (2d Cir. 2020) (“[A]ccusation[s] of concrete, wrongful conduct are actionable while general statements charging a person with being racist, unfair, or unjust are not.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). “Hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” and “racist,” as used in these reviews, t squarely in the second category. Accordingly, these comments, like the others discussed above, are non-actionable statements of opinion. Additional comments made by Chamara in her longer review are closer calls but are ultimately non-actionable opinion statements when analyzed in the correct context. As explained above, we consider the social context that these reviews appeared in to determine whether a reader would interpret the reviews as asserting opinions or facts. But the context analysis is two-fold: courts must also analyze the entirety of a review a comment appeared in to determine whether the reviewer expressed a factual assertion or opinion. Cf. Solaia Technology, 852 N.E.2d at 841 (analyzing the phrase “essentially worthless” in the context of the full letter where it appeared); Flip Side, Inc. v. Chicago Tribune Co., 564 N.E.2d 1244, 1250 (Ill. App. 1990) (“[O]ne cannot select isolated sentences or statements out of an article or book in an attempt to create a claim for libel. The whole article or book, just as the entire episode in an episodic comic strip, must be viewed in order to determine the context of any statement that is made.”). We cannot evaluate the defamatory nature of a word or phrase used in a review and determine whether the word or phrase is provably false on its own without considering the entire sentence and review in which it appeared. An example from this case illustrates the importance of de ning the scope of analysis correctly. Chamara’s review of No. 18-3216 13 Freydin included the line “he has no right to practice law.” Taken out of the context of the rest of the review, one might nd this statement to be falsi able and actually false. No one disputes that Freydin is a licensed attorney and has a legal right to practice law. The full context, however, leads to a different conclusion about the nature of this comment. Here is the full review from Chamara: David Freydin–is an embarrassment and a disgrace to the US judicial system, he has no right to practice law. His unethical and derogatory comments, which target one particular nation– Ukrainians, show who he really is. He portrays himself as someone, who cares about the interests of his clients, the majority of which happen to be Ukrainian, but in reality, he is a complete hypocrite, chauvinist and racist. He does not hide his hatred and disrespect towards the Ukrainian nation on his personal FB page. Such an attorney–is an embarrassment to any law rm. In context, the statement “he has no right to practice law” was the expression of an opinion. The lynchpin is what “right” means in this phrase. Plainti s argue it refers to the legal right to practice law, such as whether Freydin is a licensed attorney. But it could also easily be understood as referring to a moral right, such as whether he should be able to practice law—a judgment about his values. Reading the review as a whole, the “no right to practice law” comment should not be interpreted as a reference to Freydin’s legal status as a member of the bar. The attack is on his values and opinions. The comment is best understood as an expression 14 No. 18-3216 of Chamara’s opinions about Freydin’s values and opinions, not as a claim that he was practicing law without a license. She plainly was not “claiming to be in possession of objectively veri able facts” regarding his licensure status. As Chamara wrote before and after the “no right” phrase, she believed Freydin was “an embarrassment and a disgrace to the US judicial system,” and a “complete hypocrite, chauvinist and racist.” This language signals that she was expressing a protected opinion about Freydin’s values and moral right to practice law, not his legal right. The comment was a non-actionable opinion statement protected by the First Amendment. Plainti s make a similar argument for Chamara’s use of “unethical.” They argue that “‘unethical’ carries a precise and understandable meaning which would subject the attorney to the discipline” of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. That assertion overlooks the fact that “unethical” modi ed “comments” in the sentence: “[Freydin’s] unethical and derogatory comments, which target one particular nation–Ukrainians, show who he really is.” It strains logic to read “unethical” in this context as referring to whether Freydin was complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct enforced by Illinois bar authorities. Additionally, even if “unethical” was not in reference to Freydin’s comments, “unethical” is surely meant in the ordinary context and as synonymous with immoral, nefarious, villainous, or vile. See Unethical, Merriam-Webster Online, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unethical (last visited Jan. 26, 2022). In any event, the use of “unethical” here was a non-actionable expression of an opinion for the reasons discussed. Cf. Gardner v. Senior Living Systems, Inc., 731 N.E.2d 350, 355 (Ill. App. 2000) (“Merely calling plainti ‘unethical’ No. 18-3216 15 here [cannot] be reasonably interpreted as stating actual veri able facts and therefore falls under a constitutionally protected opinion.”). Plainti s also contend that a one-star review is, by itself, defamatory. This would mean the one-star reviews by defendant Romenets and the unidenti ed John Does that contained only the review and no additional commentary amounted to defamation per se. We do not see how a one-star review conveys any objective fact that could be false or true. A person’s rating re ects her own preferences, and preferences di er for many reasons. We assume that one-star ratings can cause substantial harm to a business. The power of a review does not change the fact, however, that there is no measuring tool to gauge the reliability of a one-star rating or a ve-star rating. As we understand Illinois law on expressions of opinion, an unexplained one-star review simply could not be actionable as defamatory. Cf. Kimzey v. Yelp! Inc., 836 F.3d 1263, 1269–70 (9th Cir. 2016) (“Even were we convinced that a one-star rating could be understood as defamatory—a premise we do not embrace ….”); Aviation Charter, Inc. v. Aviation Research Group/US, 416 F.3d 864, 870–71 (8th Cir. 2005) (concluding that ratings are non-actionable opinion statements), abrogated on other grounds by Syngenta Seeds, Inc. v. Bunge North America, Inc., 773 F.3d 58 (8th Cir. 2014). Plainti s failed to state viable claims for relief under a theory of libel per se, and the district court properly dismissed this count of the complaint. C. Civil Conspiracy Claims Plainti s also appeal the district court’s dismissal of their civil conspiracy claims. Civil conspiracy “is not an independent tort.” Indeck North American Power Fund, L.P. v. Norweb 16 No. 18-3216 PLC, 735 N.E.2d 649, 662 (Ill. App. 2000). When “a plainti fails to state an independent cause of action underlying its conspiracy allegations, the claim for a conspiracy also fails.” Id. Since plainti s failed to state an independent cause of action underlying the alleged conspiracy, their civil conspiracy claims cannot stand on their own. We a rm the district court’s dismissal of these claims. IV. Denial of Leave to Amend The district court also did not err in denying plainti s’ request to amend their complaint after granting defendants’ motion to dismiss. We review the denial of a motion to amend for an abuse of discretion. E.g., Runnion ex rel. Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago & Northwest Indiana, 786 F.3d 510, 524 (7th Cir. 2015). “The general rule is to freely permit plainti s to amend their complaint ‘once as a matter of course.’”ArlinGolf, LLC v. Village of Arlington Heights, 631 F.3d 818, 823 (7th Cir. 2011), quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a); see also Runnion, 786 F.3d at 518; Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1024 (7th Cir. 2013). The need for the generally “liberal amendment standard remains in the face of uncertain pleading standards after Twombly and Iqbal.” Runnion, 786 F.3d at 523. This general rule has its limits. District courts “may deny leave to amend … where there is a good reason to do so,” such as “futility, undue delay, prejudice, or bad faith.” R3 Composites Corp. v. G&S Sales Corp., 960 F.3d 935, 946 (7th Cir. 2020) (internal quotation marks omitted). This discretion has its limits, too. An “‘outright refusal to grant the leave without any justifying reason appearing for the denial,’” for example, “‘is not an exercise of discretion; it is merely abuse of that discretion and inconsistent with the spirit of the Federal Rules [of Civil Procedure].’” O’Brien v. Village of Lincolnshire, 955 F.3d No. 18-3216 17 616, 629 (7th Cir. 2020), quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). When evaluating a decision not to permit an amended pleading, the analysis is not focused on only the district court’s actions. We also consider whether the denial of leave to amend caused prejudice to the appellant. Showing prejudice ordinarily requires a party to show how she would have amended her pleading. And we expect that showing to be made at an early opportunity—in the district court, unless the court closed that door, and certainly no later than in an opening brief to this court. E.g., Webb v. Frawley, 906 F.3d 569, 582– 83 (7th Cir. 2018) (losing plainti was “not entitled to leave to amend at this stage” after he failed to request leave to amend his complaint until it was too late). Failing to include an amended pleading, for example, “‘may indicate a lack of diligence and good faith.’” Arlin-Golf, 631 F.3d at 823, quoting Otto v. Variable Annuity Life Insurance Co., 814 F.2d 1127, 1139 (7th Cir. 1986). Delay also makes it di cult to “meaningfully assess whether [the plainti ’s] proposed amendment would have cured the de ciencies in the original pleading.” Crestview Village Apartments v. U.S. Dep’t of Housing & Urban Development, 383 F.3d 552, 558 (7th Cir. 2004); see also James Cape & Sons Co. v. PCC Construction Co., 453 F.3d 396, 401 (7th Cir. 2006) (“District judges are not mind readers…. Even assuming that [plainti ] properly moved to amend, the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing with prejudice, since it had no way of knowing what the proposed amendment entailed.”). Plainti s here never showed the district court how they thought they could amend their complaint to cure its de ciencies. Even in this court, plainti s also did not indicate in their 18 No. 18-3216 opening brief what they would have alleged in an amended complaint. Not until their reply brief did plainti s provide any concrete information. The reply brief on appeal is too late in the process to gain the bene t of the general permissive rule allowing one amended complaint as a matter of course. Considering this fact, any failure to provide adequate reasoning on the part of the district court did not amount to reversible error. E.g., Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers v. Kohl's Corp., 895 F.3d 933, 942 (7th Cir. 2018) (though there were “problems with the district court’s decision” denying plainti s’ motion to amend, the court did not commit reversible error when plainti s failed to show what they would have included in their amended complaint in the district court or on appeal). The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
Primary Holding
Seventh Circuit rejects libel claims based on negative reviews posted on a law firm's social media sites in response to an attorney's online comments.

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