Eighth Circuit Throws Out Judgment For Ventura In Chris Kyle Defamation Case

Chris_Kyle_January_2012The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit handed down a major tort ruling in throwing out the $1.8 million judgment awarded to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Ventura alleged that he was defamed in the late author Chris Kyle’s bestselling book “American Sniper.” The court cited various errors at trial, including a faulty instruction on the actual malice standard for defamation and the misuse of unjust enrichment as a basis for the damages. The trial showed clear and frankly surprising errors by both Ventura’s counsel and the trial judge.

Kyle was a sniper for a United States Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) team — made famous after his death in the movie “American Sniper.” His book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History” included a subchapter entitled “Punching Out Scruff Face.” It described punching out Scruff Face for making offensive remarks about the SEALs at a gathering following the funeral of a SEAL killed in combat. Kyle later revealed “Scruff Face” was James Janos, better known as Jesse Ventura. The alleged fight occurred at McP’s, a bar in Coronado, California. Kyle wrote: “Scruff started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it. President Bush was an asshole. We were only over there [Iraq] because Bush wanted to show up his father. We were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering. . . . Scruff said he hates America.” He said he told Ventura to “cool it” but that Ventura took a swing at him. Kyle said that he “laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.”

Ventura, however, denied a fight ever occurred and denied making the statement. He sued Kyle in a diversity action under Minnesota law for defamation, misappropriation, and unjust enrichment. Both sides produced witness accounts. The jury found in favor of Ventura on the defamation claim, awarding $500,000 in damages, but found in Kyle’s favor on the misappropriation claim.

The court adopted the jury suggested award in 2014 of $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment against Kyle’s estate. The Eighth Circuit has now tossed that award.

One of the most surprising parts of the trial was Ventura’s counsel’s statement during closing argument that HarperCollins’s “insurer is on the hook if you find that Jesse Ventura was defamed” and “Kyle is an additional insured for defamation under the publisher’s insurance policy.” First-year law students are taught that it is entirely improper to make such an argument before a jury. It is astonishing to see it made in a major, high-profile trial. The Eighth Circuit found that the comments were clearly calculated and intentional by counsel. The trial court also failed to act to properly correct the error of counsel.

The court then found as a matter of law that no unjust enrichment claim could be maintained:

Under Minnesota law, “to prevail on a claim of unjust enrichment, a claimant must establish an implied-in-law or quasi-contract in which the defendant received a benefit of value that unjustly enriched the defendant in a manner that is illegal or unlawful.” Caldas v. Affordable Granite & Stone, Inc., 820 N.W.2d 826, 838 (Minn. 2012). We agree with Kyle that “Ventura cannot maintain a claim for unjust enrichment because he had no pre-existing contractual or quasi-contractual relationship with Kyle.”

The decision is an embarrassing blow to Ventura’s counsel who committed a clear and shocking error. It is also an embarrassing reversal for U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, no relation to Chris Kyle.

Here is the opinion: Ventura decision

29 thoughts on “Eighth Circuit Throws Out Judgment For Ventura In Chris Kyle Defamation Case”

  1. Gen. Petraeus pled guilty to mishandling classified material.
    He resigned as CIA Director, and it’s unlikely that he will regain any high level position in any administration.
    His mistress had security clearance, and was subsequently stripped of that clearance.
    There are some things that seem unique about Hillary’s
    mishandling of classified material v. the Petraeus case.
    She is a presidential candidate, and I think likely to win in November.
    The Petraus case was settle a few years ago following an investigation and plea bargain, and the Hillary investigation is yet to be completed.
    Regardless of the results or recommendations of the FBI investigation, it seems likely to me that Hillary will face any legal charges.
    The Obama/ Lynch DOJ has little incentive or desire to damage the Democratic nominee, but the Obama/ Holder DOJ didn’t face that
    problem in going after Petraeus.

  2. First of all, it’s nice to see that you’ve gotten the blog back to the discussion of actual legal cases instead of the usual endless discussion on the death of free speech by our overly PC culture, or the perpetual All-Hillary’s-Email-All-The-Time. (speaking of which, you seem to have neglected to cover the news about David Petraeus’ mistress having 200 actual classified documents on her laptop, but I guess that’s not as interesting as the Hillary scandal).

    Second of all, who’s Chris Kyle? Is he the overblown sniper who made up a lot of stuff about himself and his record? Wasn’t satisfied with the things he had actually done so started fabricating additional events, awards, medals and so forth? That guy?

    Hopefully Ventura, who is a tinfoil conspiracist anymore, will re-file and do it right this time.

    We need new heroes. These guys both suck.

  3. Thank you blog minder and commentors for not showing ugly Hillary photos today. I am not capable of viewing such an ugly thing today. I would like someone to tell me where I can buy some Hilllary toilet paper. I want to give it out to my Republican friends who do not wipe enough.

    Nick: thanks for identifying the Ventura guy for us. I never heard of him before. I like the words “bloviating idiot”. Good job.

  4. Jesse Ventura is a bloviating idiot who used to be somebody. Now he’s just a big titty, steroid abuser, buffoon. Even MSNBC won’t put him on anymore to bash Bush and Republicans.

  5. Yes, he did and he claimed in an interview he would drop the matter if Kyle apologized. But, since Kyle died, he instead went after the estate.

  6. I suspect Jesse Ventura damaged his reputation further by, in the wake of Chris Kyle’s death, suing a widow and her children after he claimed he would have accepted Chris’ apology and received satisfaction. I don’t have proof either way of whether the incident occurred or not. But for me attempting to extract money from the widow of a decorated combat veteran and her children is fundamentally lacking in honor.

    In my opinion Mr. Ventura’s reputation was overvalued and the jury should have awarded him the fair market value of two bits.

  7. Hey Streisand –
    I don’t think anyone has a dog in the fight. It’s a commentary! Just folks opinions and like you know what we all have one.
    Ho Ho Ho ha ha hs😁

  8. Haha .. I’m just an impartial, and only marginally interested observer, Joseph Jones (or is it really James Janos, aka Jesse Ventura?!?). I made no claims about the culpability for the trial mistakes, nor do I care. I simply said that whatever the publicity damage Kyle may or may not have done in his book, Ventura has done much more to himself subsequently, and I stand by that. (Maybe you’re not familiar with the self-destructive Streisand Effect and didn’t bother to look it up?) Most people I’ve heard talking about the claim know the story BECAUSE Ventura brought the lawsuit, not because Kyle said it in some obscure offhand remark after the book came out.

    I have no dog in this fight, so I’m just providing you with some insight from the general public that may apparently be valuable, since you yourself are obviously wound way too tightly around your sense of persecution.

  9. Geez Hogan let it go. If you are “Scruff Face” or whoever, got into fight with a brother Seal got the worst of it, so take it on the chin. I guess if you were the victor Kyle’s wife should sue you? Leave the lady alone she has enough to deal with.

  10. > One of the most surprising parts of the trial was Ventura’s counsel’s statement during closing argument that HarperCollins’s “insurer is on the hook if you find that Jesse Ventura was defamed” and “Kyle is an additional insured for defamation under the publisher’s insurance policy.” First-year law students are taught that it is entirely improper to make such an argument before a jury.

    I have no opinion on the case, but I find it interesting that in Hogan vs. Gawker, both “journalists” and lawyers are poutraged that Hogan’s lawyers argued in such a way as to dismiss the insurance company.from the legal proceedings entirely. And have since made the question of who is paying for Hogan’s lawyers seem entirely relevant as opposed to the question of “was Hogan right”?

    You lawyers have very peculiar rules over the influence of money and … influence.

  11. calypsofacto: you blame Ventura for errors of the judge and Ventura’s counsel? Why? Exactly why is someone a loser and idiot for wanting to correct the record when someone makes up blatant lies to publicize a book? BTW, this case is not over, so your judgement is a little premature.

    If you are a paid shill for Kyle’s family, I don’t think you’ve earned your pay for this rather coarse and not-well-considered post.

    And your post ignores the fact that Kyle revealed the true identity of Scruff Face.

    And finally, in case you don’t know: your boy “Joyce Brothers” Kyle took a known depressed PTSD suicidal psychotic hallucinating vet to the gun range (yes, I said gun range) for some good ole fashun sniper therapy (readers, please don’t try this at home), at which therapy session the vet shot dead two people including your genius hero Kyle.

    Me thinks your sycophant love is misplaced, but that’s just me.

  12. Chris Kyle claims to have punched out a guy identified only as “Scruff Face” in his book and a couple million people read it. Whatever.

    Then Ventura Streisand Effects himself by filing a high-profile lawsuit against Kyle’s widow and earns the scorn and ridicule of hundreds of millions. Loser AND idiot.

  13. JMRJ

    LOL! Except that it is not very funny. When I first went into private practice after leaving the government, IRS filed what should have been called a Rule 60(b) motion very close to the one year deadline in a case I was handling. Except they did not cite to Rule 60(b) and they failed to articulate any valid reasons why they waited so long to file their motion. Had I filed such a motion, without any evidence justifying the delay in filing the motion, the motion would have been quickly denied.

    At the hearing on the motion, the judge asked the government attorney:”You meant to cite Rule 60(b), right?” Response:”Yes.” Judge: “And you had good reasons for not filing the motion until now, right?” Response:” Yes.” Judge:”Tell me about those reasons.” Response: “(blah blah –it doesn’t matter what was said because the statements of the attorney do not constitute evidence on which the Court could rely to grant the motion ).”

    Result: Government’s Rule 60(b) motion granted, citing the almost nonsensical reasons for the delay given by the government attorney, upon which the Court could not have legally relied. Of course we appealed. Result: Affirmed by the 9th Circuit.

    This goes on all the time. Which is why lawyers tell their clients to settle.

  14. Jesse should have the case retried and not let this one go. I have a sneaking hunch Chris Kyle liked himself a bit too much. Besides, Jesse’s criticism of Bush doctrine was appropriate and balls to the walls. Kyle may have been brave and certainly new sniping, but like most of our military servicemembers he wasn’t up to snuff on the real foundation of Bush’s foreign policymaking.

    I used to frequent McP’s on Thursday nights (yes, nearly every Thursday night) in the early ’90s. There were lots of SEALs and other Navy personnel including pilots flying into and out of North Island in there because it was meat-market night. I never once saw a fight, let alone with a SEAL involved, and every SEAL I saw (some I knew) was on his best behavior. Perhaps too close to base. It’s hard for me to believe Chris Kyle would have taken off running after decking Ventura at a bud/s graduation gathering.

    Pretty big errors by a federal trial judge, and I hope Jesse’s gotten over the improper cross and argument by his counsel, who I can only imagine thought the facts so lukewarm that it was worth the risk.

  15. OMG. JT is correct about mentioning insurance in the closing. One of my first investigative job working civil cases was for a large law firm in Chicago. In trial prep, partners would HAMMER this point to young associates, both that they should not mention insurance and that they should object and ask for a mistrial if opposing counsel does it.

  16. I’ve read that book twice, at least. Kyle NEVER said he went to Katrina and shot any looters. You shouldn’t talk about something you don’t know anything about.

  17. Yes, professor, it’s totally shocking that fundamental trial rules get disregarded in practice. Except it’s not. One recent example I can give you is a trial judge that explicitly decided certain evidence should be excluded because it was too favorable to the party he apparently didn’t want to see win. Maybe the problem is that nobody really does all that many trials anymore, but I think that’s minor compared to biases that are so deeply ingrained they surface by an unthinking reflex.

  18. Usually in these kinds of articles we get some context, so let’s do that here since Turley didn’t bother:

    1) Ventura is a member of the SEAL community, BUDS class 58.
    2) Multiple statements made by Kyle have been shown to be false, including the number and type of military medals he received and various other claims made in his book (including having traveled to New Orleans after Katrina and shooting, from a sniper position, as many as 30 looters).

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