Texas Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal Of Voice Actor’s Bogus Defamation Lawsuit
from the file-stupid-lawsuits,-win-stupid-prizes dept
Vic Mignogna is an American voice actor specializing in English dubs of Japanese anime. His career dates back to the early 2000s. Unfortunately for Mignogna, he’s now mostly known as a serial sexual harasser. Those accusations began surfacing in 2019, with some accusations dating back nearly a decade before he became a successful voice actor.
Following these allegations, Funimation and Rooster Teeth both cut ties with Mignogna. Mignogna — who has a considerable following across multiple social media platforms — had plenty of opportunity to refute these allegations. And he did. But he decided that wasn’t enough. Hiring perhaps not the best of legal representation (Texas lawyer Ty Beard), Mignogna sued Funimation (and others) for defamation.
He lost. Badly. Utilizing Texas’ anti-SLAPP law, the defendants got the lawsuit tossed. They also succeeded in getting the fees shifted, making Mignogna personally responsible for $223,000 in legal fees.
Mignogna appealed. He probably shouldn’t have bothered. The final amount ended up being higher than that, with the Texas Appeals Court awarding nearly $283,000 in legal fees to all defendants.
That handled the anti-SLAPP fee shifting. But Mignogna also appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit. He shouldn’t have bothered doing that either. The absolutely brutal opinion [PDF] highlights just how abysmally both Mignogna and his lawyer performed during this legal action and how far off base they were in their legal claims. (This Twitter thread by Akiva Cohen hits all the highlights and is definitely worth reading.)
All seventeen claims against the defendants were dismissed by the lower court. The Appeals Court pitches the same perfect game: 0-17.
How do you lose this badly? Well, the first thing you do, as Mignogna and his representation did here, is sabotage your own case. In a pro se case, this could charitably be considered an unforced error. In a case where the plaintiff has both the money to sue and the funds to hire a lawyer, this is incomprehensible.
On the record before us, Appellees met their initial TCPA [anti-SLAPP] burden, in part because Mignogna failed to preserve his complaints about their evidence, which the trial court considered along with Mignogna’s allegations in his first amended petition. And because Mignogna withdrew the principal evidence supporting his prima-facie burden before the hearing on Appellees’ TCPA motions, he was unable to meet his TCPA burden on any of Appellees’ claims. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by granting Appellees’ TCPA motions, by imposing sanctions on Mignogna, or by awarding attorney’s fees to Appellees, and we affirm this portion of the trial court’s judgment.
That’s perhaps the best thing said about Mignogna’s legal effort in this ruling. It gets so much worse.
Mignogna argued the lower court erred in not considering his second amended complaint. But that complaint was filed after the deadline and, holy shittingly, contained apparent false representations about signatures on the supporting affidavit.
According to the subsequently filed “Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File Late Response to Defendants’ TCPA Motions to Dismiss Due to Technical Issues,” Mignogna’s counsel unsuccessfully attempted to file Mignogna’s TCPA response just after midnight on Saturday, August 31. He successfully served Marchi’s counsel, however, who asked him to provide a certified copy of all notary-book pages for the notarizations performed by him on August 30, the date that the affidavits of Mignogna, Chuck Huber, and Christopher Slatosch—which were attached to Mignogna’s TCPA response—were signed according to Mignogna’s counsel’s notary stamp. At 9:04 a.m. on September 2, Rial and Toye’s counsel asked Mignogna’s counsel for an explanation of how Mignogna, Huber, and Slatosch could have signed their affidavits in his presence when none of them were in Tyler [Texas] with him on August 30.
Yeah, that’s misconduct. And all pretty much standard M.O. for Ty Beard, Mignogna’s counsel.
On top of arriving late (and apparently containing falsified signatures/sworn statements), the belated response arrived with a bunch of useless garbage attached, further annoying both the lower court and the next level of review.
Nine of the seventeen exhibits contained evidence that was not attached to the TCPA response. The remaining eight exhibits consisted of three unsworn declarations (from Mignogna, Huber, and Slatosch, with the same contents as their affidavits), the three depositions, E.M.’s unsworn declaration, and Dahlin’s affidavit.
The lower court ultimately granted permission for the late filing, but refused to consider three withdrawn affidavits or any of the “evidence” attached to the new filing.
Here’s why things went down the way they did, according to both judicial levels. This was a transparent attempt to game the system, albeit one performed by individuals too incompetent to pull it off.
The record reflects that Mignogna essentially tried to use an amended pleading as a late TCPA response to remedy his lack of evidence and thereby avoid the parties’ Rule 11 agreement deadline.
The dismissal of Mignogna’s defamation claims — all of them — are similarly upheld. You just can’t sustain defamation claims when you admit a person’s published accusation is substantially true.
Mignogna argues that Marchi defamed him through her statement that he had assaulted her by grabbing her hair, yanking her head back, and whispering something “sexual” in her ear.
Mignogna’s… um… rebuttal:
In his deposition, Mignogna admitted to the incident involving Marchi’s hair but stated that it “was not painful, it was not hurtful, it was not sexual, and it happened at least four or five years ago, maybe longer,” and he denied ever having whispered anything sexual in her ear or having had any sexual interest in her.
Mignogna cannot decide how this interaction presented itself to the person having their hair pulled. And it definitely didn’t help his case that he admitted to doing the same thing (hair pulling) to several other females over the years.
He also agreed that Marchi was not the only woman whose hair he had pulled…
And he stated (in his defense[?!]) that if he said anything to Marchi, it was only about how much he “loved” her hair.
Here’s how Mignogna (and his lawyer, Ty Beard) mishandled another accusation the voice actor claimed was defamatory:
Mignogna argues that he specifically denied Rial’s accusations against him, but to support his assertion, he primarily references his affidavit and Slatosch’s affidavit, both of which he withdrew before the TCPA hearing, and his unsworn declaration and Slatosch’s unsworn declaration, neither of which the trial court considered because they were attached to his second amended petition. Further, despite having attached Rial’s entire deposition to his TCPA response, Mignogna provided no evidence of her state of mind with regard to the actual-malice element.
Related: LOL at this entry of “evidence” on behalf of Mignogna related to Rial’s allegations — one both courts chose to ignore:
[A]n affidavit by Stan Dahlin regarding his recollection (none) of an incident involving Mignogna that Rial had described as having occurred at the November 2007 Izumicon…
Every claim non-actionable, thanks to Mignogna and his lawyer’s mishandling of this lawsuit.
Mignogna’s pleadings and evidence had to establish “the facts of when, where, and what was said[;] the defamatory nature of the statements[;] and how they damaged [him].” Lipsky, 460 S.W.3d at 591. However, Mignogna merely attached 342 purported tweets by Toye without their surrounding context—the tweets to which Toye was responding—which is required to determine if a statement is defamatory per se. Bilbrey, 2015 WL 1120921, at *12. Further, the tweets referring to Mignogna as a “sexual predator” or variations thereof were nonactionable opinion…
His other claims fared no better upon the second review. Tortious interference? Show your work, says the court. Claiming invitations to public events dropped off after the allegations surfaced means nothing when Mignogna openly admitted during depositions that conventions routinely avoid inviting people to appear at multiple events and tend to shy away from repeat invitations due to the sheer number of people in the businesses Mignogna operated in (anime, voiceover). He also was unable to provide any rescinded offers or altered contracts reflecting his accusations that these allegations had diminished his public appearance opportunities.
Mignogna admitted in his deposition that with the exception of one convention—Kameha Con—he had no written evidence, emails, text messages, or anything to show that Appellees had contacted or encouraged conventions not to invite him.
Notably, Kameha Con was not one of the defendants.
I supposed this judicial shutout could be appealed. I can’t see why Mignogna or his lawyer would want to. Perhaps they still believe the court can restore innocence (even though that’s not how civil litigation works) and make Mignogna seem like less of a problematic person than he currently does. But all it will really do — considering the sheer number of inexplicable blunders and failures contained within — is increase the amount owned to the people Mignogna sued in hopes of shutting them up.