Judge: Protester’s actions not protected under law
A Jasper County judge has ordered a stop to a Georgia man’s year-plus, roadside protest of a Hardeeville car dealership, one he conducted using homemade signs containing language the court deemed defamatory.
According to court records, 14th Judicial Circuit Judge Carmen T. Mullen granted a partial summary judgment on Nov. 13 in favor of First Team Hyundai LLC against Greg Hackney, known locally for his almost daily, highly visible protest in front of Peacock Auto Mall.
Hackney, a 53-year-old greater Atlanta resident, began marching along the shoulder of U.S. 278 in September 2017, in front of what was formerly called Hilton Head Hyundai to, in his words, protest the service and treatment he said he’d received from the dealership.
But the dealership, since rebranded as Peacock Hyundai Hilton Head, argued Hackney’s claims — which surfaced after he’d brought his car in for repair and had numerous back-andforths with his insurer — were unfounded, and soon sued Hackney for defamation, libel and slander.
The dealership further said Hackney’s actions had deterred customers and hurt its business, according to court documents.
Mullen agreed with the dealership on both counts.
Her order last week contained a permanent injunction that prevents Hackney “from publishing the defamatory statements that the Dealership acted fraudulently, unprofessionally, untrustworthily, dishonestly, unethically, or has engaged in bait and switch activities,” the sentiments Hackney expressed on his signs.
Hackney claimed his protest
was protected by the Constitution and freedom of speech. Mullen disagreed.
“This Court further finds the speech is not protected by the First Amendment,” said the order, which can be found online in the Jasper County Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Public Index.
“Any further protesting would not serve any useful purpose in educating the public about the Dealership,” the order continued.
Hackney did not respond to a message left on his cell phone seeking comment Tuesday.
Brad Martin, a Greenville-based attorney representing the dealership, did not respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday, and a representative reached by phone at his law firm said he was out of the office for a few days.
When asked if there were any forthcoming hearings scheduled, Jasper County Clerk of Court Margaret Bostick said the case is, at the moment, finalized.
A summary judgment is a pre-trial ruling made by a judge when there is no dispute among parties of “material fact” in the case, according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute. After a partial summary judgment, a trial can follow to assess, for example, damages or other items not yet ruled on.
Hackney’s “activity,” as he called it, became locally famous in the Lowcountry.
He was fixture on the roadside, known to commuters who often waved and honked as they flashed past him.
Cashiers at nearby gas stations and stores sometimes called him “Mr. Hyundai.”
He often protested from roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days except Sundays, he told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette in April.
Hackney usually stayed close to Jasper County, he said, but didn’t like to spend the night there — sometimes he slept in his car, he told the newspapers.
He said his job as a private consultant allowed him the flexibility to protest.
O.C. Welch — owner of neighboring O.C. Welch Ford Lincoln — previously told the newspapers that he’d never seen anything like Hackney’s behavior in his four-plus decades in the car business.
Martin previously told the newspapers that Hackney had once threatened dealership employees with violence and had once asked for $1 million to “go away.”
Hackney responded that his words were taken out of context and that he had offered the dealership a settlement, though not for $1 million.
The Jasper County Sheriff’s Office issued Hackney a trespass notice, banning him from the dealership in late September 2017.
But at that time he was still able to march along the roadside on public property.
Hackney has represented himself during the past 14 months since the case was filed.
In filings preceding Mullen’s order, Martin noted that Hackney’s filings were sometimes submitted late and filled with “irrelevant material” that bogged down the court.
At an Oct. 31 hearing preceding Mullen’s order, Martin told the court: “Today is the day to bring the circus to an end.”
“Halloween,” Martin continued — what an appropriate date.
Greg Sanford Hackney pickets in February in front of Hilton Head Hyundai. On Nov. 13, a judge ruled his actions were defamatory and not protected by the First Amendment, and ordered a stop to his protest.
In February, Greg Sanford Hackney cleans off one of his hand-made protest signs in a parking lot at New River Center before beginning a day of picketing in front of Hilton Head Hyundai. On Nov. 13, a judge ruled his protest is defamatory and not protected by the First Amendment, and ordered a stop to his protest.