Cayuga Nation and Tribal Leader to Appeal Dismissal of Defamation Suit against “Billions” Creators and Showtime Network

Cayuga Nation and Clint Halftown v. Showtime Networks, Inc., Brian Koppelman, Andrew Ross Sorkin, and David Levien, No. 157902/2019 (N.Y. Sup. Ct.) Decision granting dismissal entered July 17, 2020.


The Cayuga Nation and tribal leader Clint Halftown sued the creators of Showtime Networks drama “Billions” in defamation, alleging that a female character sharing the same name as Halftown was shown to have engaged in illegal conduct.  The court noted that the Cayuga Nation, as sovereign, could not sue for defamation.  Rather than defamatory content, the fictional Jane Halftown was not shown to be engaged in criminal activity.  Moreover, the court concluded, there was no likelihood that the character in the show, which published a statement in the end credits noting its status as fiction, would be perceived to be the living Clint Halftown. 

To be defamatory, a statement must be “of and concerning” and individual and be recognized or reasonably be interpreted as such.  This is a question of law but where a work is fiction, a court must search for “similarities and dissimilarities” to see whether someone who know the plaintiff would know the plaintiff was being portrayed.  

Consideration might be given to similar name, physical characteristics, family, history, and activities, including recreational activities. 

As libel by fiction is counter-intuitive, requiring denial of defamatory material while asserting similarities with the fictional character, more than superficial similarities must be shown, such that one who knows the plaintiff would recognize the plaintiff in the fictional character.

This cannot be established where the real and fictional characters are, as here, of different genders, there is no history of the plaintiff’s involvement in land deals, and no engagement with novel voting methodologies.

That the real and fictional characters have the same last names and occupations is superficial. A viewer would not be misled, and the closing assertion that the show is fictional only underscored the show’s nature.  

Plaintiffs’ trade appropriation claim failed because the statute applies to persons, not sovereigns, and concerns advertising and trade, not fiction. 

Plaintiffs have appealed the order of dismissal in its entirety.  

157902_2019_Cayuga_Nation_et_al_v_Showtime et al Decision and Order

157902_2019 Cayuga Nation et al v. Showtime et al Notice of Appeal (2020)

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Eternal Vigilance: Depictions of Press Freedoms and Hazards Around the World

A bit out of the ordinary for JustLawful, but the link below, created by VisualCapitalist.com, provides striking depictions of the ease (or not!) of disseminating information around the world.  Moreover, for those accustomed to observing the lives of the White House Press Corps (i.e., find seat, observe, report), it is deceptively easy to form the belief that reporting is always that cozy.  Not so!

And in further discoveries, the oft-repeated phrase alluded to here, i.e., “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” has not been confirmed by the keepers of the Jeffersonian flame, who offer that the expression was in widespread use in the 19th century.  With no pride of authorship found to reside in founding father Jefferson, the phrase may be more accurately attributed to Irish lawyer, judge, and firebrand John Philpot Curran.  Those dismayed by the unending onslaughts of the digital age may find respite in the slower, yet potent, pace of the 1817 Curran memoir linked below.

Mapped:  Press Freedom Around the World.  Routley, N. Visual Capitalist.  May 2, 2020

Thomas Jefferson Foundation:  “Eternal Vigilance” May Be  a Spurious Quotation

Minnesota Legal History Project_.Memoirs of the Legal, Literary & Political Life of John Philpot Curran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Viral Publication and Opinion in a Divided Nation: CNN Settles with High School Student Said to Have Been Defamed by Broadcast of Video of Confrontation with Native American Protester on the National Mall

Sandmann v. Cable News Network, et al., No. 2:19-cv-00031 (E.D. Ky.).  Related matter:  Sandmann v. Washington Post Company, No. 2:19-cv-00019 (E.D. Ky.)


Nicholas Sandmann visited the National Mall on January 18, 2019, joining with fellow Catholic High School students in a March for Life event.  There Sandmann was confronted, face to face, by Nathan Phillips, a Native American participating in a separate event, subsequent to what appears to have been a series of taunts exchanged among protest groups. 

The video confrontation, published nationally by mainstream media, including Cable News Network (CNN), precipitated officials, news commentators, church officials, and others to characterize Sandmann, shown in a “MAGA” (“Make America Great Again”) hat, a symbol of the current executive administration, as a racist. 

Sandmann filed complaints against several media entities separately, two of which, against the Washington Post Company and CNN, have been assigned to the same senior federal judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky.  

Following dismissal with prejudice of the complaint against the Washington Post, Sandmann was granted reconsideration which set aside the dismissal in part and granted Sandmann leave to amend his complaint against the Washington Post.  

In October, 2019, CNN’s motion was denied to dismiss and Sandmann’s motion to amend his complaint were granted. 

A proposed discovery and pretrial schedule was submitted to the court in the Eastern District of Kentucky in both cases on  January 3, 2020. The parties to the CNN case reported publicly on January 7, 2020 that settlement with CNN without trial, on undisclosed terms, had been reached. 

Whether the settlement signals a change of course among other media defendants will likely unfold in the not distant future. 

Notwithstanding — and perhaps particularly in light of — the rhetoric accompanying this case, the legal issues, while well grounded in history, seem to call for particular examination in the age of instant worldwide publication and the simultaneous formation of opinions.  Whether a matter is one of fact, and therefore actionable in defamation, or of opinion, and therefore not, is a longstanding principle. Whether this is changed or modified or subject to new refinement in the age of instant worldwide transmittal and simultaneous formation and publication of opinions remains to be seen.

CNN’s account of the settlement may be found at:

CNN Settles Lawsuit Stemming from Viral Video Controversy

The opinion dismissing Sandmann’s initial complaint against the Washington Post, of some historic note, may be found here:

2019 07 26 Sandmann v. WP Company__Memorandum and Order Granting Motion to Dismiss