Articles Posted in Defamation, Libel and Slander

Published on:

The video of Jason Spencer walking backward with his pants down while screaming “America!” was widely viewed and mocked after it aired on Sacha Baron Cohen’s show, “Who Is America?” While it’s certainly embarrassing for Spencer, who later resigned his position as a Georgia state lawmaker, is it worthy of a lawsuit?

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to getting sued by people who appear on screen with him. His movies and TV shows tend to poke fun at people and put them in a less-than-flattering light, so it’s never a surprise when they become upset after seeing themselves on screen. The latest round of lawsuits looks like it might come from several politicians who appeared on Cohen’s show, “Who Is America?” although it’s unclear exactly what their claims will be. Some of them have already made public comments saying they’ll pursue all legal remedies, but no lawsuits have yet been filed.

There are a few problems with these people trying to sue Cohen and/or the show’s producers. The first is the high probability that they all signed release agreements. While one upset politician has admitted to having signed a release, another said he doesn’t remember, but that it’s likely that he did. Continue reading

Published on:

In August some major online content distributors, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Apple, started removing Alex Jones’s Infowars content from their platforms for allegedly violating their policies. It made sense for Jones’s staff to delete some of the offensive material in order to get his content back onto those major platforms so he could get back in front of his audience. But because he is also facing a defamation lawsuit, deleting that material could be considered destroying evidence, which is illegal.

Jones and his company, Infowars, have been sued by survivors and family members of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Jones has said on his broadcast that the entire shooting was a hoax planned and sponsored by the government in order to promote an anti-Second Amendment agenda. Jones has accused survivors and family members of being actors and claimed that the supposed deceased never really existed in the first place.

As if losing a child to senseless violence isn’t bad enough, survivors and family members have had to deal with threats and harassment from Jones’s followers. At least one family has moved to a gated community as a result of the threats they received.

Some of the survivors and family members have responded by suing Jones and his company for defamation. Much of that lawsuit depends upon the content published by Infowars, but since some of that content has since been deleted (and Jones is on record admitting he told his staff to delete the content), Jones may have inadvertently dug his hole deeper. Continue reading

Published on:

One of the problems with arbitration is that it’s private, which means the results never make it into the news. This poses a problem for those trying to use lawsuits in order to make a statement.

Rick Pitino recently sued Adidas for allegedly inflicting damage to his reputation after a corruption scandal that eventually resulted in him losing his job at Louisville. The defamation lawsuit sought both compensatory and punitive damages, although the complaint did not specify an amount for either one. According to Steve Pence, Pitino’s attorney, the lawsuit was less about the money than it was about trying to salvage Pitino’s reputation.

But shortly after Pitino filed the lawsuit, Adidas filed a motion to dismiss it, saying the case belonged in private arbitration outside of court. The judge agreed and dismissed the case.

It’s worth noting that the dismissal does not mean that Adidas is innocent of the allegations against it. All it means is that the U.S. court is not the proper jurisdiction to handle the dispute. But since the results of arbitration are never made public, Pitino’s stated main goal of clearing his name cannot be accomplished through arbitration.

In 2017, an FBI investigation linked Pitino with improper recruitment practices, specifically his connection with Brian Bowen, a five-star player who was allegedly paid $100,000 to commit to playing for the University of Louisville.

Pitino was initially placed on administrative leave in September of 2017 after the results of the FBI investigation were made public. He was fired just a few weeks later and Bowen ended up not playing for U of L. Continue reading

Published on:

Chalk up a victory for pro-consumer speech in Illinois. In a recent opinion, the Third District Appellate Court found that Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois (BBB) did not defame a business by giving it a “D-” reliability report on its website because the rating was protected as subjective opinion.

Perfect Choice Exteriors LLC, a home improvement company in Creve Coeur that installs windows, roofing, and siding, sued BBB in Peoria County circuit court for defamation, commercial disparagement, tortious interference with contract, and violation of the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Perfect Choice claimed BBB told inquiring customers that they should not do business with the company, resulting in a loss of contracts exceeding $50,000, as well as “injury to [its] reputation and standing within the business community in an amount exceeding $50,000.”

BBB initially gave Perfect Choice an “A” rating after it launched in 2009, but later changed that to a D- based on what it called the “complaint volume with the BBB for a business of [Perfect Choice’s] size” and Perfect Choice’s inadequate response to and resolution of customer complaints. Perfect Choice denied these claims and alleged that BBB never materially investigated the complaints to determine their validity. Continue reading

Published on:

Tensions between American citizens are higher than ever with no sign of slowing down any time soon and there’s ample evidence that the 2016 election played a significant role in widening those divides. Trump’s presidential campaign ran on a platform of anger and division as he routinely worked his rally crowds into a froth of resentment and hatred.

As he encourages his citizens to attack each other (both verbally and physically) his proponents who work in television, radio, and on the internet have likewise been encouraging their followers to participate in the same destructive behaviors. One such supporter, Alex Jones, has a radio show and website in which he publishes conspiracy theories about natural disasters. While the rest of the country was mourning the lives lost in the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and Sandy Hook, Jones publicly and repeatedly insisted the first two were inside jobs and the last one never happened. Instead, he claims survivors and their families are “crisis actors” promoting the “gun-grabbing” agenda.

But the families have had enough. Family members of eight of the Sandy Hook victims, plus an F.B.I. agent who was a first responder at the shooting, have filed a total of three defamation lawsuits against Jones. One lawsuit alleges Jones and his company, InfoWars, have continuously perpetuated the monstrous lie that the Sandy Hook families faked the deaths of their loved ones. Continue reading

Published on:

Anyone who thought the story of Stormy Daniels’s alleged affair with Donald Trump would blow over quickly should think again. Not only is Daniels not going anywhere, but she’s drawing other people into the scandal, including Keith Davidson, her former attorney.

Davidson represented Daniels in the negotiations between her and Trump for the non-disclosure agreement she signed regarding the affair she and Trump allegedly had in 2006. Under the terms of the non-disclosure agreement, Daniels was to keep quiet about the affair in exchange for $130,000.

Daniels kept her end of the deal for the first five years. Then, in 2011 she tried to sell the story of the affair to a magazine, which had agreed to pay her $15,000 for the story. But Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, allegedly threatened to sue the magazine, which backed out and never paid Daniels for the story.

Daniels said she was also threatened by a man in a parking lot while she was with her daughter, who was an infant at the time. The man allegedly told Daniels to leave Trump alone, saying it would be “a shame” if anything were to happen to her.

Although that kept Daniels quiet for the next five years, she has since come out and spoken publicly about the affair she allegedly had with Trump all those years ago.

At first, Daniels merely hinted at the possibility of an affair and refused to explicitly confirm or deny its existence. She received lots of media attention and was invited to be on various talk shows, but she consistently cited her non-disclosure agreement as the reason she could not directly talk about the alleged affair. It wasn’t until a few months ago that Daniels started talking more openly about the affair and its aftermath, claiming the non-disclosure agreement was invalid because Trump never actually signed it. Continue reading

Published on:

When a worker starts saying bad things about their employer in public, it tends to raise a certain question: are they a whistleblower or are they a disgruntled employee trying to sabotage an honest company?

According to Tesla, Martin Tripp, who used to work as a process technician for the car manufacturer, is allegedly a saboteur who is actively trying to inflict financial harm on the company. Among the allegations listed in Tesla’s complaint are defamation and theft of trade secrets.

The business defamation and trade secret lawsuit alleges Tripp wrote software that was designed to hack Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (MOS). The lawsuit claims Tripp admitted to doing so and to transferring data to third parties without Tesla’s knowledge or consent. The data Tripp allegedly stole is said to include dozens of photos and at least one video, all showing how Tesla’s MOS works.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the business lawsuit further alleges Tripp made defamatory comments about the company to the media. As an example, Tesla’s complaint points to some comments Tripp made saying some of the company’s Model 3 vehicles had punctured battery cells, but the company insists no punctured cells (battery or otherwise) have ever been used in any of their vehicles. Continue reading

Published on:

A recent libel case in Chicago federal court involving the American Bar Association illustrates the difficulty of succeeding in a defamation claim.

The litigation centered around an article published in an ABA journal in 2015. The plaintiffs comprised seven forensic handwriting experts, or “diplomates,” certified by the Board of Forensic Document Examiners, which has only 12 certified diplomates.

Defendant Thomas V., a forensic document examiner certified by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, a different body, published in the Judges’ Journal an article entitled “Forensic Handwriting Comparison Examination in the Courtroom.” Not mentioned was the fact that Thomas sits on the board of the American Board and is its past president. Both boards are certified by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board.

The article proposed preferred qualifications for forensic document examiners. The plaintiffs alleged several statements were specifically defamatory to them based on their affiliations with the Board of Forensic Document Examiners:

  1. “An appropriately trained forensic document examiner will have completed a full-time, in-residence training program lasting a minimum of 24 months per the professional published standard for training. Judges need to be vigilant of this issue. There are large numbers of practitioners who do not meet the training standard.”
  2. “The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners … is the only certification board recognized by the broader forensic science community, law enforcement, and courts for maintaining principles and training requirements concurrent with the published training standards. Be wary of other certifying bodies.”

Continue reading

Published on:

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is arguably the most important part of the document because it guarantees all citizens the right to free speech. It means we have the right to openly debate (and criticize) each other, our neighbors, public figures, and most importantly, our own government. That right extends to specific individuals who work for, or are hoping to obtain positions in, the government. Having envisioned a government made by the people for the people, our founding fathers realized that freedom of speech would be a key ingredient to this experiment, which is why they lost no time in adding it to the Constitution.

So Josh Harms was probably taken by surprise when officials of the city in which he lives threatened to sue him for exercising his First Amendment right.

Harms, who lives in Sibley, Iowa, has been protesting his city’s government on his website, which is called “Should You Move to Sibley, Iowa?” Harms set up the website, and posts on it, in order to protest the city’s decision to allow Iowa Drying and Processing to move into a vacant building in Sibley in 2013. Harms started posting on his website a couple years later in 2015.

Iowa Drying and Processing uses pig blood to make a protein-rich supplement for animal food, so it’s not hard to imagine that Harms’ odor concerns are legitimate. He was most likely not far from the mark when he wrote on his website that the town smelled like “rancid dog food.” Continue reading

Published on:

As important as their reputation is to their career, public figures (by the nature of their jobs, which puts them in the spotlight) have a hard time controlling that reputation. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects most forms of freedom of speech, especially those regarding public figures. The idea is that free and unprohibited discussion of public figures makes for a more informed public, which can only be good for the public.

This includes creative renderings of historical events and people. Writers and artists often choose to write about things that actually happened decades, or even centuries ago, either because those events are interesting in and of themselves, and/or to make some sort of commentary on modern society.

Ryan Murphy chose to make a limited series about the making of the movie, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,” which starred Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The series, “Feud: Bette and Joan,” was Murphy’s way of discussing sexism and ageism in Hollywood, two factors that continue to affect the movie and TV industry (among others) to this day, more than fifty years later.

The problem, according to a recent lawsuit, was the fact that, in addition to Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, the show necessarily had to write about other people who surrounded and interacted with those two stars at the time the film was made, including Olivia de Hallivand, now 101 years old. De Hallivand objected to the way she was portrayed in the limited series and says they never obtained her permission to use her name or likeness for the show. Continue reading