This week’s most frivolous lawsuit was filed by Dr. Randeep Dhillon of Bakersfield on behalf of himself and Bol Punjabi All Regions Community Organization in California. Dhillon is suing Jay Leno for showing a picture of the Sikh holy shrine Golden Temple in Amritsar, India as the image of Mitt Romney’s summer home. The obvious parody is entirely protected but Dhillon has claimed that it constitutes libel.
Dhillon argues that the joke and image created libel on its face that exposed Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt and ridicule by portraying the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh. That would be ridiculous on its face and presumably will prompt a filing for sanctions as a frivolous and vexatious lawsuit.
In Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), the United States Supreme Court voted unanimous 8–0 to reject a libel claim based on an obvious joke. Hustler ran a parody in poor taste that suggested Falwell had an incestuous encounter with his mother in an outhouse. The court not only applied the higher New York Times v. Sullivan standard, but held that, even when the joke is meant to harm the image of the target, it can be protected:
“The appeal of the political cartoon or caricature is often based on exploitation of unfortunate physical traits or politically embarrassing events – an exploitation often calculated to injure the feelings of the subject of the portrayal. . . Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate.”
What is astonishing about this lawsuit is that no reasonable person would view this picture as defamatory or harmful to any individual, let alone to a group — even if it were ever taken seriously.
The Sikh litigants in this case have joined Muslim litigants in showing as little sense of law as they do a sense of humor. In the United States, it is extremely difficult to maintain a “group libel” case even when there is jurisdiction. One of the leading cases occurred in 1952 in a New York lawsuit. In Neiman-Marcus v. Lait, 13 FRD 311 (SDNY 1952), employees of that high-end store sued the author of a book titled “U.S.A. Confidential.” The book claimed that some of the models at the store and all of the saleswomen in the Dallas store were “call girls.” It further stated that most of the salesmen in the men’s department were “faggots.” The issue came down to the size of the group. With 382 saleswomen and models, the court found that the group was too large. However, with the 25 salesmen, the court found that an action could be maintained.
Dhillon uses the lawsuit to complain about Leno’s past statements regarding Sikhs: “Previously, in 2007 he called Sikhs ‘diaper heads.’ In 2010, he remarked, falsely so, in his monolog that President Obama could not visit Sri Darbar Sahib because of requirements of wearing a turban. Clearly, Jay Leno’s racist comments need to be stopped right here.”
As reprehensible as such comments can be, the torts system is not designed to correct sectarian or religious sensibilities.
Dhillon however is not alone in being humor-challenged. Vayalar Ravi, the visiting affairs minister for non-resident Indians, has called on the government to crackdown: “I believe the person who has shown [it] is not that ignorant. The American government should also look at this kind of thing.”
In the interests of legal clarity, below are the summer homes that I have purchased with the copious advertising revenue from this blog:
Source: Daily Mail