Court Declares Armstrong Has Protected Right To Lie To Fans

220px-Lance_Armstrong_Tour_2010_team_presentation_(cropped)Lance Armstrong has succeeded this week in establishing a constitutional right that is tailored perfectly for his legacy: the constitutional right to lie. U.S. District Judge Morrison England dismissed a lawsuit by people who bought his books while he was lying about his use of performance enhancing drugs and attacking his critics. In a clearly correct decision, England ruled that such writing is squarely protected by the First Amendment. The case is Stutzman v. Armstrong, No. 2:13-CV-00116-MCE-KJN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129204, September 9, 2013

The lawsuit by readers was always in my view meritless. Indeed, if England had gone the other way, it would have created a massive chilling effect on writers. There is no question that Armstrong is a liar and a cad. However, many people at the time had alleged drug use and these fans simply took his word that he was wrongly accused.

However, the description of the harm seems exceptionally weak:

“Sometime between 2001 and 2003,” Plaintiff Stutzman “learned about the book It’s Not About the Bike.” (ECF No. 22 at 7.) Plaintiff Stutzman bought the book and read it cover to cover; he found the book compelling and recommended the book to several friends. Plaintiff Wheeler followed Defendant Armstrong’s early cycling career and his cancer diagnosis and treatment, and purchased a copy of It’s Not About the Bike shortly after it was published. Plaintiff Wheeler purchased the book after “learning through the media about [Defendant] Armstrong’s supposedly truthful and inspiring account of his triumphant return to dominate the world of cycling after his devastating bout with testicular cancer.” (Id. at 8.) Wheeler “was so impressed with It’s Not About the Bike . . . that he bought Armstrong’s follow-up book, Every Second Counts . . . .” (Id. at 8-9.) Plaintiff Lauria currently has breast cancer, and “was inspired by advertising featuring reports of Armstrong’s successful battle against cancer, which moved her to purchase [Defendant] Armstrong’s books.” (Id. at 9.) Having learned that Armstrong took performance enhancing drugs to win races has left Plaintiff Lauria “bitterly angry,” and she would not have purchased either book had she known that Defendant Armstrong had used such drugs. (Id.)

The lawsuit sought $5 million in refunds for the books like autobiographies It’s Not About The Bike and Every Second Counts. (It turns out it was about the drugs Armstrong was using). The court analyzed the case as a SLAPP action under state law: “California’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute is designed to discourage suits that “masquerade as ordinary lawsuits but are brought to deter common citizens from exercising their political or legal rights or to punish them for doing so.” Batzel v. Smith, 333 F.3d 1018, 1024 (9th Cir. 2003)”

In a well-written decision, England wrote “The Court concludes, despite plaintiffs’ allegations that the Armstrong books contained false and misleading statements, that the content of the books is afforded full First Amendment protection.”

It is the same protected right as those who lie in “stolen valor” cases. In this case, the plaintiffs tried to get around the right by treating the books as commercial speech. It was a transparent attempt to circumvent the first amendment protections and expose others to damages for statements deemed untrue in the future. It would have made for exceptionally dangerous precedent. Frankly, neither the price of a book or Armstrong are worth it.

However, Armstrong faces a far greater challenge in other fraud cases, including claims from the United States government. Lies can lose their protection when used to secure contracts or payments.

Here is the case: USCOURTS-caed-2_13-cv-00116-6

21 thoughts on “Court Declares Armstrong Has Protected Right To Lie To Fans

  1. Buyer beware……Politicians lie and are elected to office, religious fanatics lie and are followed by millions, NSA lies and is given political cover, celebrities and sports stars lie and are worshiped by delusional fans…Lance Armstrong is just following in the steps of other liars who have profited handsomely by deceiving others….

  2. Just worship him. He has bettered himself to the max and become a member of the elite, “Royal American Entertainment Nobility” – yours is but to adore and bury in untold riches……

  3. I don’t have a problem with liars publishing books as long as the rest of the world can expose the lies and make fun of the outed liar.

    If they become unemployable, or are sanctioned by their profession, then so be it. Something else I have a problem with is court settlements and judgments being held under seal. If a minor child or vulnerable adult who can’t give informed consent is involved, that is one thing. However, to seal the file in order to protect the interests of corporations and the value of their stock is quite another.

  4. I think the lawsuit approach was wrong; to me it seems like false advertising, the product being the book itself. Armstrong lied to sell books and make money, those lies are false advertising or fraud.

    I don’t think it is “free speech” for the same reason false advertisements and false or misleading business claims or false statements about the efficacy of a medicinal product are not protected by free speech; there is an exchange of money and a profit being made.

    I agree that lying is protected, but fraud is not. Even if the fraud is conducted entirely by way of actual spoken words, it is not protected speech.

  5. Under free speech, yep his right and thankfully court did say that.
    As a non lawyer I wonder if there could be a breach of contract complaint as he, I would assume, advertised and said in media that this ook was his tre story. Still only worth the 22.50 or whatever they paid though.
    But of course there is also caveat emptor.

  6. What mystified me for a decade was how people didn’t see this guy was a phony, lying sack of shit! Although, when I see for whom people vote I should know better.

  7. So the lie is protected from legal sanction. OK. But teaching someone to beat, even with lies, a machine of virtually no merit in ascertaining truth or falsehood, is worthy of criminal charges and imprisonment. Gee, if I were a lawyer or a judge or oh, I don’t know, a megalomaniacal government run amok, I’d understand the nuance. I’m more simple than that though.

  8. You lie good enough and you can be elected to political office…. Well your lies don’t have to be that good…. Just better than the next guys….

  9. Well, this deserves an Irish Poem!

    Be Lief!

    The whole First Amendment motif,
    Meant that liars should come to no grief!
    Look for more folderol!
    And the Democrats all
    Breathed a great big huge sigh of relief!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    (PS: You can substitute “congressmen”, or ” and Republicans all” in the 4th line.)

  10. I have been awarded a zillion medals of honor, awarded a zillion dollars, all because of my propensity for troof and just us.

    I am going to go destroy something now in order to save it, so I will have a zillion and one exceptional medals (US v Alvarez).

  11. There is plenty of repercussion that can be earned by being a liar in today’s world. There are those such as Don Shipley who makes it a personal goal to out those who falsely claim to be US Navy SEALS. He does this occasionally on Youtube. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek but he gets down to it when he does. Just an example of what can happen.

  12. Note that you never see someone claiming, falsely or otherwise, to be a Navy Walrus.

    John Lennon doesn’t count.

    He was a conscientious objector walrus.

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