from the insulted-by-being-linked-to-attractive-people dept
MyPillow CEO/election fraud conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell apparently understands defamation law about as well as he understands cybersecurity, social media, and election machine operation. Lindell will be learning more about defamation law as he defends himself against voting machine manufacturer Dominion which has sued him (and a bunch of other Trumpists) over his alleged defamation.
But we’ll see if he learns anything from this other lawsuit — one he filed after the Daily Mail published an article claiming he pursued a relationship with 30 Rock actress Jane Krakowski. Now, most people would not feel insulted after being romantically linked to an actress, but this apparently bothered Lindell so much he decided to sue over it.
There’s no defamation there says the New York federal court handling Lindell’s complaint. The ruling is short, punchy, and instructive, although the court is dealing with a student especially resistant to learning lessons from stupid mistakes. (via Courthouse News Service).
The decision [PDF] says nothing in the Daily Mail’s article, which alleged Lindell and Krakowski had a nine-month relationship during which Lindell sent her gifts like bottles of champagne, even approaches defamation, no matter how much Lindell would like to construe it otherwise.
Lindell immediately informed the Daily Mail the romance never happened. So did Krakowski. Both denials were included in the article. Even if the article was false, it wasn’t defamatory and it contained denials that would allow readers to draw their own conclusions about the Mail’s claims, which were allegedly supplied by friends of the actress.
But Lindell’s main problem isn’t his alleged relationship with the sitcom star. No, he’s far more bothered by the implication that he — a clean and sober recovering drug user and alcoholic — would deign to buy alcohol for other people, even as a gift.
On a more abstract level, Lindell claims the Article disparaged his moral character. He maintains he is a recovering alcoholic who would never buy alcohol or “foist” it on other people, including Krakowski. To the contrary, Lindell is a Christian who “is piously devoted to his religious faith, his family, civic involvement and charity.” Thus, he would never “engage in any sort of scandalous” or secret romantic relationship.
As a result of the Article, Lindell asserts his reputation “in the field of addiction recovery as well as in religious communities” has been damaged. He also claims the Lindell Recovery Network “has only been able to associate with a handful of churches,” and that an unnamed “Christian broadcaster” told the Recovery Network that “churches may be pulling out” because of the Article.
While there are many reasons entities might want to distance themselves from Lindell, given his complete abandonment of rationality, it seems unlikely this article would have that effect. It never suggested Lindell was consuming alcohol. And Lindell was divorced at the time, so he was free to pursue companionship without running afoul of God’s laws or whatever.
The court says this is ridiculous. It also notes there are far more serious allegations in the Daily Mail article but none of those appeared to have bothered Lindell.
Lindell does not challenge several provocative assertions in the Article. The Article describes Lindell as a “beleaguered ‘Stop the Steal’ Trump champion” who faces dozens of legal actions for his claims about election fraud and a fake COVID-19 cure, and for false advertising related to his pillow company. It goes on to state Lindell’s “apparent enthusiasm for martial law” has caused retailers to drop his pillow products.
Nope, Lindell wanted to argue about actresses and alcohol. None of this rises to the level of defamation, says the court.
Even assuming the romance never happened, the above description would not defame Lindell. Dating an actress-secret or not-would not cause “public hatred,” “shame,” “ridicule,” or any similar feeling towards Lindell. Both Lindell and Krakowski are unmarried adults, and Lindell’s alleged actions typify those of a person in a consenting relationship. […] New York courts require a publication to “impute serious sexual misconduct” to be defamatory per se. The Article does not mention sexual conduct at all, let alone serious sexual misconduct.
Lindell has provided no support for the proposition that gossip about a typical monogamous relationship could be “reasonably susceptible” to defamatory meaning.
The alcohol angle isn’t any better, even given Lindell’s background as a recovering alcoholic.
Inferring a step further, Lindell claims the Article still defamed him because he would never buy alcohol or “foist” it on other people after recovering from his own addiction. But whatever Lindell’s personal history with addiction, buying alcohol for a dating partner would not reasonably expose him to “public hatred,” “shame,” or “ridicule.” The purchase of alcohol is a legal and ordinary act. If even more problematic depictions of alcohol consumption, such as underage drinking or alcoholism, routinely fail to qualify as defamatory in New York courts, surely no reasonable reader could find it offensive to exchange champagne or other bottles of liquor as gifts between romantic partners.
That ends Lindell’s attempt to wring money out of the Daily Mail for suggesting he dates women and buys them gifts. Lindell may still be on the hook for the Mail’s legal fees as well. New York’s anti-SLAPP law is operative here, even though the Daily Mail, for whatever reason, never bothered to file a counterclaim. The suit has been dismissed (without prejudice, meaning Lindell can waste more of his money trying this again), but the court points out fee-shifting isn’t automatic. So Lindell’s legal reps have at least one more visit to court ahead of them to respond to the Mail’s demand for fees, which will, presumably, be arriving shortly.
Being personally offended isn’t the same thing as being libeled. This is a distinction far too many plaintiffs fail to grasp. Unfortunately, their misunderstanding of the law (deliberate or mistaken) can still be expensive for those they sue. And, as the court points out in a footnote, fee-shifting isn’t guaranteed. Federal courts can (and often do) decide state law doesn’t apply at the federal level. And that makes this case yet another data point in favor of a federal anti-SLAPP law — one that will deter bogus lawsuits all over the nation, rather than just in certain states.