Category: Torts

Assault or Self Defense? The Arrest of Former Broncos Player Raises Tough Legal Questions

In teaching torts, we often discuss the vague line between self-defense and retaliation in cases of assault and battery. That issue will now be at the heart of a criminal charge against former Broncos cornerback Brendan Langley who was charged with assault after hitting a United Airlines employee. A partial video of the incident shows how murky the line can be in the use of self-defense. Literally a few seconds can make the difference if this charge is any indication.

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Federal Court Dismisses “Kung Flu” Lawsuit Against Trump

Former President Donald Trump achieved mixed results in courts this week. He lost efforts to prevent a $10,000 per day fine for contempt in failing to turn over evidence on his assets in the civil investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. He also lost his lawsuit against Twitter over his being banned from the site. However, in a case that we previously discussed, Trump prevailed in Chinese Americans Civil Rights Coalition, Inc. v. TrumpI previously wrote that I considered this case to be meritless, but it took a year to see it dismissed on the grounds discussed earlier.

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“Nothing Less Than Everything”: The Depp Trial and The Litigation of Mutual Destruction

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The defamation trial of actor Johnny Depp against his former wife, Amber Heard, has all of the makings of a Hollywood hit except for the absence of a single redeeming character. The comedian Henny Youngman may have been right that “the secret to a happy marriage remains a secret,” but the Depp trial shows that it is clear how to have a miserable marriage. It includes things like mutually taping each other, throwing objects of varying sizes, and rivaling each other in the competition of conspicuous consumption. Continue reading ““Nothing Less Than Everything”: The Depp Trial and The Litigation of Mutual Destruction”

“Take What You Can, Give Nothing Back”: The Depp Defamation Trial and the Curious Legal Position of Celebrities in Litigation

 “It is pronounced ‘egregious.'” Captain Jack Sparrow’s clarification in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean could prove useful when actor Johnny Depp takes the stand in his defamation case in Fairfax, Virginia against his former wife, Amber Heard. Continue reading ““Take What You Can, Give Nothing Back”: The Depp Defamation Trial and the Curious Legal Position of Celebrities in Litigation”

Petito’s Parents File Lawsuit Against Laundrie’s Parents Over the Murder of their Daughter

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A novel lawsuit in Florida has been filed by the parents of Gabby Petito against the parents of Brian Laundrie, Chris and Roberta Laundrie. The lawsuit accuses the parents of hiding their knowledge that Brian Laundrie killed their daughter. I am very skeptical over the basis of this lawsuit, which rests on the assumption that, if the parents knew, they had a legal obligation to disclose that knowledge to Gabby Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt. Continue reading “Petito’s Parents File Lawsuit Against Laundrie’s Parents Over the Murder of their Daughter”

“A Bit Unusual”: Federal Judge Rejects Palin Motion For New Trial

Senior U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff has issued a stinging rebuke to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in seeking a new trial. A new trial was unlikely given Rakoff’s ruling that he would dismiss the case regardless of the verdict of the jury. However, in my view, Rakoff made an utter mess of this case and this decision will only magnify the novel issues for appeal.

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Former St. Joseph’s University Professor Sues Over Termination After Twitter Controversy

We previously discussed the case of Greg Manco, a former St. Joseph’s University professor who was effectively terminated by the university after a controversy over his criticism of reparations demands. He has now filed a federal lawsuit alleging defamation, and other claims against the university and a variety of individuals, including five alumni and one current faculty member.

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Intoxication or Defamation or Both? Oklahoma Congressional Candidate Embroiled in Bizarre Incident at Slumber Party

Abby Broyles, a candidate for Congress, is embroiled in a bizarre controversy where she is accused of verbally abusing teenage girls at a slumber party and throwing up in a laundry basket and a girl’s shoe. That is not exactly a “chicken in every pot” type of political pitch. However, I am more interested in the legal than the political aspect of this case. My students and I often use such controversies to discuss the scope or application of torts theories. This one raises a couple of novel elements. Broyles initially called these girls and their parents liars behind a political hit job. She also allegedly threatened to sue a media outlet for running the allegations. The question is whether she could now be sued for defamation.

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Judicial Palindrome: How Sarah Palin was Left with Losing by Jury or by Judge

Below is my column in the Hill on the Palin defamation trial and why it could still present a substantial challenge to press protections in false stories. The court’s curious handling of the case backfired. Judge Jed Rakoff announced that he would dismiss the case regardless of the jury decision but that he still wanted the jury to reach a decision. As discussed below, the tactic would serve to insulate his own decision on appeal. However, the jury found out about his decision and now, in my view, the verdict should be set aside. If so, the case may now be a major challenge to the application of the “actual malice” standard to public figures. That issue would have to be decided by the Supreme Court however given the prior ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan.

Here is the column:

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Palin and Public Figures: Is it Time to Reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan and the Actual Malice Standard?

Below is my column in USA Today on the Palin defamation trial. The case, if appealed, could raise a serious challenge to the application of the “actual malice” standard to public figures. Ironically, last night, Hillary Clinton made reference to this standard in suggesting that she might be able to sue Fox News for its coverage of the Durham investigation. It is considered a sacrilege to even raise the possibility of reexamining the legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan but there are legitimate long-standing questions about the extension of the actual malice standard from public officials to public figures. It is a tough question with good arguments on both sides, but it is a debate that is long overdue.

Here is the column:

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Deliberation or Repetition? Palin Jury Knew the Judge Was Going To Dismiss the Case Before its Verdict

There is a major development in the Sarah Palin defamation case where a jury recently rejected her claims against the New York Times. The case had a curious profile because the judge sent out the jury to deliberate and then announced that, while he would let them reach a verdict, it would not matter: he would dismiss the case anyway. I wrote in the Hill that this move worked to insulate the judge’s own decision. If the jury came in with a verdict against Palin, that fact finding would be more difficult to overturn. Now, however, Judge Jed Rakoff has disclosed that the jury found out about his intended dismissal before they reached a verdict. That is a major problem and could substantially change the impact of the case on appeal. In this case, Judge Rakoff effectively supplied both the instructions and the answers for the jury.

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Hutchins Family Sues Baldwin and Others For Wrongful Death

As expected, the family of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins has sued actor Alec Baldwin and others for wrongful death in the fatal shooting on the set of the movie “Rust.” The complaint details evidence of negligence on the part of the production team, which includes Baldwin as a producer. The lawsuit is on behalf of Halyna’s husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their son Andros Hutchins. There is also a pending criminal investigation. As previously discussed, there is ample support for such a negligence claim and there will likely be enormous pressure to settle this case.

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Palin v. NYT: New Evidence Suggests the New York Times Ignored Internal Objections to Palin Editorial

We have previously discussed the lawsuit of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) against the New York Times, a lawsuit that could have far reaching implications for defamation law in the United States. The trial began with the introduction of evidence that the New York Times editorial board ignored internal objections to publishing the 2017 column linking Palin to the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona in which then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz was seriously injured. Continue reading “Palin v. NYT: New Evidence Suggests the New York Times Ignored Internal Objections to Palin Editorial”

“A Stain on Our Democracy”: Vindman Sues Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Others for Witness Intimidation

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the former Director for European Affairs for the National Security Council, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging violations of his civil rights by Donald Trump, Jr.; attorney and Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani; former Deputy White House Communications Director Julia Hahn; and former White House Director of Social Media and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Daniel Scavino, Jr. He alleges a “conspiracy” to intimidate him and to retaliate against him as a witness against Donald Trump during his first impeachment proceedings. It claims that this conspiracy has left “a stain on our democracy.” The lawsuit is novel and would create new law, if successful. However, after reading the filing, I remain skeptical of the legal basis for the action. Continue reading ““A Stain on Our Democracy”: Vindman Sues Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Others for Witness Intimidation”

Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks