Lutfi v. Spears: Court of Appeal Rules In His Favor

Lutfi scores another important victory. The Second District Court of Appeals, in Los Angeles, affirmed the trial judge’s decision denying Spears’s (not Britney–her mother) anti-SLAPP motion. If you recall, Spears wrote a book and included some statements about Lufti, which he didn’t like very much, to put it mildly. So he sued her claiming libel, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Spears’s advanced three main arguments on appeal:

  • Lutfi was libel-proof (in other words, his reputation was so bad already that he couldn’t possibly have sustained any damage as a result of the statements in the book.)
  • Lutfi was a limited purpose figure and couldn’t establish actual malice
  • The alleged defamatory statements are protected opinions

The Court rejected each of Spears’s arguments. Of particular interest was its analysis of the libel-proof doctrine in this case. Because no California court has applied this doctrine to any case, the Court looked to a 2nd circuit decision and a decision from the Central District for guidance. The Court declined to apply the libel doctrine because those cases were factually different than Lufti’s case. Specifically, they involved plaintiffs who evidenced a clear propensity for the offending conduct in the past, or, who admitted to committing such conduct. Here, Lufti was neither convicted of any of alleged offenses described in the book, nor did he admit to having committed any of the alleged offenses. So the Court determined that the libel-proof doctrine did not apply.

I think this was a relatively easy decision for the Court to make. Lutfi had plenty of evidence to show a probability of prevailing on the merits. And a fact finder could decide that some of the arguably rhetorical or hyperbolic statements are defamatory when considered in their proper context.

I also believe California should not adopt the libel-proof doctrine for two reasons. First, its application is doubtful in light of recent United States Supreme Court precedent. Second, it would rarely apply and would cause confusion in the law.

 

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