Friday, August 23, 2013

No 'Air Jordan' to Help, 7th Cir. Slam Dunks Scottie Pippen's Libel Suit

English: Cropped photograph of Scottie Pippen
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit this week upheld the trial court's dismissal of former Chicago Bulls great Scottie Pippen's defamation suit against several broadcasting and Internet defendants who allegedly erroneously reported he had filed for bankruptcy.

In the nine-page ruling in Pippen v. NBC Universal Media LLC et al (Case No. 12-3294), Judge Frank Easterbrook said the Basketball Hall of Fame Forward had failed to satisfy the elevated burden of proof of actual malice that public figures must meet in defamation claims, which means showing that the media defendants published the purportedly false statements knowing they were untrue or with reckless disregard of their truth or falsity.

The 48-year-old Pippen filed suit in 2011 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illionis (see "TUOL" post 12/29/11) alleging that the defendants falsely reported that he had sustained $120 million in financial losses and had filed for bankruptcy, which he claimed cost him fees from endorsements and personal appearances.

"Since Pippen's opportunities diminished after the statements were made," Judge Easterbrook wrote, "he believes they must have diminished because the statements were made. This theory of causation is weak for professional athletes, whose earnings related to past stardom drop as time passes since their playing days."

Judge Easterbrook's opinion also rejected Pippen's argument that the defendants were liable for not correcting the false information about his financial well-being in online accounts. "[E]xcluding the Internet from the single publication rule would eviscerate the statute of limitations and expose online publishers to potentially limitless liability," Judge Easterbrook concluded.

Under the single publication rule, subsequent circulation of an allegedly libelous story does not create fresh claims of defamation; rather, the claim for relief for defamation is complete when the initial publication occurs. Evidently, Pippen's  court appearances require Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson to be successful.

Tip of the hat to THR, Esq. Web site for its full-court press on this story.

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