Judge Dismisses Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Defamation Lawsuit Against The New York Times

from the next-time,-bring-facts,-rather-than-a-stunt-lawyer dept

Attorney Larry Klayman is building himself quite the portfolio of high-profile losses. He's well on his way to seeing his lawsuit on behalf of Judge Roy Moore tossed by an irritated court. His lawsuit against social media companies for their banning of noted tire slash expert Laura Loomer has already been dismissed.

Well on his way to having his law license suspended, Klayman has just seen another one of his ridiculous lawsuits tossed by a federal court. [h/t Adam Steinbaugh]

This one claimed three publications -- including the New York Times -- besmirched the previously-unsullied reputation of (ex) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, preventing him from successfully running for Senator.

Reciting the litany of terrible things Arpaio had done over his career, the New York Times pointed out Arpaio is pretty much defamation-proof. Even though the Times screwed up by calling him a convicted felon rather than a convicted misdemeanant, everything else written about him was true or protected opinion.

The court points out Arpaio's Klayman-authored complaint is a skeleton partially garbed in useless invective. The decision [PDF] is concise, running only 11 pages, but it still provides enough space to completely dismantle the former sheriff's arguments.

Even with the court siding with the plaintiff at this stage of the pleadings, there's not enough in Arpaio's complaint to push this past the NYT's motion to dismiss. When you come to court, you need to bring facts. That's not exactly Klayman's strong suit.

Plaintiff’s Complaint comes nowhere close to pleading sufficient facts that plausibly establish “actual malice.” Indeed, Plaintiff pleads no facts at all. Instead, throughout his Complaint, he does no more than recite the applicable legal standard.

The court points out that copy-pasting legal definitions into a lawsuit and appending the plaintiff's name to them does not actually create actionable torts out of thin air. Nor does claiming the court cannot dismiss a lawsuit until the plaintiff thinks it's OK for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

[P]laintiff argues that the issue of malice “is a question of fact that cannot properly be resolved on a motion to dismiss.” See Pl.’s Opp’n at 10. Not so. The Supreme Court in Iqbal expressly held that the pleading of malice is subject to the “strictures of Rule 8.” 556 U.S. at 686–87. Thus, a plaintiff that “plead[s] the bare elements of his cause of action . . . [cannot] expect his complaint to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. Courts in this District have dismissed defamation claims for failing to plead sufficient facts supporting the element of actual malice

It also points out that material better suited for heated blog posts shouldn't be used in place of actual arguments.

Plaintiff argues that actual malice can be inferred because “The New York Times’ political partisanship and liberal bias know no reasonable bounds . . .” Pl.’s Opp’n at 12. But Plaintiff offers no facts in his Complaint to support this proposition. The three news articles that he cites in his opposition brief do not demonstrate the type of animus that Plaintiff claims. See id. at 15 n.3. In any event, even if The New York Times takes positions that could be perceived as unfavorably disposed towards Plaintiff, the D.C. Circuit has observed that “[i]t would be sadly ironic for judges in our adversarial system to conclude . . . that the mere taking of an adversarial stance is antithetical to the truthful presentation of facts.” Tavoulareas v. Piro, 817 F.2d 762, 795 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Plaintiff’s unadorned claim of animus and bias cannot save his deficient pleading.

Also: saying mean things about people is not defamation, nor is it evidence of actual malice.

Plaintiff’s objection to certain words that he considers incendiary—such as “sadist,” “medieval,” “bare-knuckled,” “disgrace,” and “true American villain”—is misplaced. They are too imprecise or subjective to be verifiably false facts.

Yep, still protected opinion -- something Arpaio might have figured out by reading the article before suing about it.

That these words appeared in a column in the Opinions section of The New York Times only underscores that point.

Because Arpaio can't show actual malice, his claims of false light fail as well. So do his claims of tortious interference for much the same reason: the plaintiff needs to show, not tell. Nothing in the lawsuit provides a basis for the interference claims, which appear to be mostly boilerplate recitation of legal standards.

This will certainly be appealed if Klayman can do it before he's disbarred. But it won't change the outcome. What it will do, however, is cost the defendants more money. The NYT filed an anti-SLAPP motion but the court rejects it, stating its earlier opinion in another defamation case, where it decided the federal court in DC cannot apply the district's anti-SLAPP law. Add this one to the pile of reasons why Congress needs to enact a federal anti-SLAPP law.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, defamation, free speech, joe arpaio, larry klayman
Companies: ny times

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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 14 Aug 2019 @ 1:47pm

    Done and done.

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