James Woods Saved By A Question Mark, But Still A Total Hypocrite
from the defamation-for-thee dept
Karma works in funny ways sometimes. Over the past few years, we covered how actor James Woods filed a totally ridiculous defamation lawsuit against an anonymous internet troll who made some hyperbolic statements about Woods — statements that were little different than what Woods had said about others. The case never went anywhere… because the defendant died. But Woods gloated over the guy’s death, which just confirmed what a horrible, horrible person Woods appears to be.
So, while we found the karmic retribution of someone else then suing Woods for defamation on similarly flimsy claims noteworthy, we still pointed out just how weak the case was and noted that, as much of an asshole as Woods was in his case against his internet troll, he still deserved to prevail in the case against him. And prevail he has. The case has been tossed out on summary judgment. While the opinion also details Woods continuing to do the assholish move of trying to avoid being served (his lawyers refused to give an address where he could be served and Woods refused to have his lawyer waive service requirements — which is usually a formality in these kinds of things). Not surprisingly, the judge is not impressed by Woods hiding out from the process server:
It certainly appears that Woods is fully aware of the lawsuit, has retained a lawyer to represent him in this matter, has received a copy of the Complaint (as evidenced by his responding Answer), and is willing to engage with the substance of the allegations (as evidenced by his Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings seeking a decision on the merits). His simultaneous refusal to waive service, to authorize his lawyer to accept service, or to provide his lawyer with an address where he may be served smacks of intentional evasion, a well-settled ground for denying dismissal….
Woods denies he engaged in any ?gamesmanship? because he twice notified Boulger that service was not yet complete, and because Boulger could have further attempted service through different means, such as ?by personally delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant personally, leaving a copy at the defendant?s dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there, or delivering a copy to an agent authorized to receive service of process? …. But Woods himself made all of these methods impossible by refusing to provide his lawyer with an address where he may be served or to authorize his lawyer to accept service on his behalf.
Thankfully, the court isn’t letting the big Hollywood actor man play games with the court.
But, then the court gets to the meat of the case and does make the right decision. As much of a jerk as Woods has been throughout both of the cases we’ve discussed, he’s legally on the right side of this. He did not defame Portia Boulger with his tweet questioning whether she was another woman. The background of the case, if you don’t remember, is that there was a clip of a Trump-supporting Nazi woman, and some people started saying that it was a sort of false flag operation, saying that the woman was really Boulger, a well-known Bernie Sanders supporter. However, the two were obviously different women and Boulger wasn’t anywhere near the rally where the Nazi-spouting woman was recorded. Woods had tweeted a “question”: “So-called #Trump ‘Nazi’ is a #BernieSanders agitator/operative?” over a tweet from someone else making the claim that the woman was Boulger.
In this case, it’s that question mark at the end that saves Woods and actually makes the case a closer call than it should have been. Woods should have won easily, but here it really does seem to come down to the question mark:
Were it not for the question mark at the end of the text, this would be an easy case. Woods phrased his tweet in an uncommon syntactical structure for a question in English by making what would otherwise be a declarative statement and placing a question mark at the end. Delete the question mark, and the reader is left with an unambiguous statement of fact: ?Socalled #Trump ?Nazi? is [Portia Boulger,] a #BernieSanders agitator/operative.?
But the question mark cannot be ignored. The vast majority of courts to consider questions as potential defamatory statements have found them not to be assertions of fact. Rather, a question indicates a defendant?s ?lack of definitive knowledge about the issue? and ?invites the reader to consider? various possibilities.
And thus, the statement is not defamatory. The court does note that merely adding a question mark alone is not enough to sheild someone from defamation (so don’t get that idea!) but here it is enough to make the tweet protected.
Again, this is a good (and correct) result, even if Woods’ hypocrisy is on full display here. Not only did he try to evade service in this case and try to get it dismissed on those grounds, he remains the guy who continued to chase after an anonymous internet troll for saying a couple of marginally mean things about him on Twitter. One hopes that Woods will have learned a lesson from all this — that filing defamation lawsuits against people over their angry tweet rants is a bad idea… but… that seems unlikely.