A United States District Court in Massachusetts dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against the well-known comedian, Bill Cosby.
An actress who first met Bill Cosby over 50 years ago claims she appeared on the Bill Cosby Show and believed to she was a friend of Cosby. In 1974, both she and Cosby happened to be in Detroit, Michigan and Cosby asked to meet her socially. When she arrived at Cosby’s hotel room, she claimed Cosby, wearing only a robe and a wool cap, physically attacked her and forcibly raped her.
In 2014, the New York Daily News interviewed the actress and published an article describing the alleged rape. In response to that publication, Cosby’s attorney wrote a letter to the Daily News admonishing it for publishing the article about the rape. The six page letter basically asserted the actress lacked credibility, she was not a reliable news source and the Daily News either failed to investigate or simply ignored certain information that purportedly undermined the actress claims.
She alleged the attorney’s letter harmed her reputation and she filed a defamation claim.
Merely a point of view
In order to be successful on a defamation claim, a claimant must prove (1) a false and defamatory statement concerning the plaintiff, (2) an unprivileged communication to a third party, (3) fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher and (4) either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication. However, prior cases establish that defamatory statements are not punishable unless they are capable of being proved true or false.
Additionally, if it is clear that the speaker is expressing his or her subjective view, theory or interpretation, such statements are usually not considered defamation. However, couching a statement as an opinion will not shield the speaker from liability if the statement implies existence of underlying defamatory facts.
The Court analyzed Crosby’s counsel’s letter as a whole and concluded it contained both opinionated statements regarding the actress’s credibility and the facts on which those opinions are based. The gist of the entire letter was that the lawyer was expressing a point of view and the lawyer also disclosed non-defamatory facts underlying his conclusions.
The Court also noted that the Daily News article included the actress’s allegations, specifically the allegation that Cosby raped her, leaving an objective reader free to draw his or her own conclusions. Also important was the fact that nowhere in the lawyer’s letter did he deny that Cosby committed the rape. Instead, the letter raises doubts as to the actress’s credibility and criticized the Daily News for failing to include or consider other information. The Court did not believe the overall gist of the letter was defamatory.
The Court then analyzed each of the 24 allegedly defamatory statements and also held that none of the statements constituted defamation. As a result, the Court dismissed the actress’s defamation claim.