A federal court in Illinois has dismissed a defamation case brought by Scottie Pippen against various websites for saying he was broke. The reason Pippen lost is because he failed to allege the actual malice hurdle required by the First Amendment for defamation cases brought by public figures.
This looks less like a win for the defendants and more like a withdrawal by Pippen. I’m not sure why Pippen couldn’t have kept going with this lawsuit – at least for a little while – by amending his complaint.
My guess is that Pippen probably had a lousy case he wasn’t going to win. So that begs the question, why did he file in the first place? Well, I think this is probably a typical celebrity-blowing-off-steam lawsuit. Throwing the lawyers around makes the celeb feel good and provides a way to try to blunt bad press with the news that the celeb is going to court. But, in this pattern, the case doesn’t go anywhere. The celeb just gives up after a little while. It’s kind of an obnoxious use of the judicial system.
Ready to roll your eyes? Here’s the first paragraph of Pippen’s complaint:
It is a most foul libel indeed to be falsely accused of being bankrupt.
Oh, for crying out loud. Then look at the next paragraph:
That is what happened to Scottie, and the malicious libel was disseminated across the nation by the media.
Ooooh. I love the arm-over-shoulder cooing of his first name.
Then comes the third paragraph. It’s over 900 words and reads like a Wikipedia entry about Pippen that was written by his publicist. It starts by saying where he was born and then goes through his whole career, bestowing one accolade on the Pippen after another.
Then, at the end of the complaint, there is a prayer for relief asking for $1 million from each defendant.
Sometimes a complaint isn’t written for the court so much as it’s written for the media – what is sometimes called a “press release complaint.” Those are bad enough. But Pippen’s complaint appears to be the kind that is actually written for the client. Ugh. It’s lawyer-mediated self-affirmation. And it’s a colossal waste of time. Courts ought to feel more comfortable sanctioning this kind of thing.
At any rate, Pippen proved one thing in countering rumors of his insolvency: He at least has enough money that he can waste bags of it on a pointless lawsuit.
From a legal angle, the lawsuit is well-summed-up in the court’s minute order:
MINUTE entry before Honorable Sharon Johnson Coleman: In its order of 8/02/2012, the court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint, but allowed him to seek leave to file a complaint that made allegations that were legally sufficient under constitutional and defamation principles. The complaint that plaintiff now seeks leave to file alleges with more detail the recklessness of defendants’ publications regarding his financial status. However, as the court has observed, the malice required to establish liability for defamation of a public figure such as famed and well-respected athlete Scottie Pippen is greater than the mere failure to investigate, no matter how allegedly egregious that failure may be. The court concludes that plaintiff’s proposed amended complaint cannot be considered a sufficient allegation of defamation against a public figure. Plaintiff’s motion for leave to file that amended complaint is accordingly denied, and this action is dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment is denied. Civil case terminated.
Some case documents for your reference:
- Minute Order of September 26, 2012 dismissing lawsuit [pdf]
- ORDER of August 2, 2012 granting motion to dismiss [pdf]
- ARIZONA BOARD OF REGENTS’ INDEPENDENT MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S AMENDED COMPLAINT[pdf]>
- COMPLAINT [pdf]