Still A Bad Idea: Gawker Exploring Lawsuit Against Peter Thiel

from the this-is-unlikely-to-work dept

Back in June, rumors floated that Gawker was exploring a lawsuit against Peter Thiel for “tortious interference and racketeering” for his decision to fund a series of lawsuits (mostly bogus) against Gawker with the clear aim of destroying the company. Despite the fact that we think this was a really bad thing for Thiel to do, and dangerous for a functioning free press, we felt that suing back would be equally problematic.

But, it’s not like Gawker listens to us here. Eriq Gardner has some details from the latest filing in the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings for what’s left of Gawker (it sold off most of its content assets to Univision, but the remaining company is still going through bankruptcy — and still appealing the Hogan verdict). And in that filing, it’s clear that Gawker’s lawyers are still interested in suing Thiel, though they at least admit that it’s a long shot and that they have a “heavy burden” to prove. As summarized by Gardner:

“Given the apparent motive of Mr. Thiel to destroy the Debtors by his financial support of (and actual or de facto control regarding claims of) major alleged creditors, the Debtors require discovery to ascertain whether certain claims exist on behalf of the estates,” states Gawker’s motion. “For example, the New York Times report of Mr. Thiel’s intent to destroy the Debtors to avenge, inter alia, the’s 2007 publication (of a story about him) raises the possibility that the Debtors have a cause of action for prima facie tort under New York law.”

Gawker’s lawyer admits that such an action would have a “heavy burden.”

According to the court papers, “Such a tort claim would require the Debtors to show: (1) an intentional infliction of harm; (2) without excuse or justification and motivated solely by malice; (3) resulting in special damages; (4) by an act that would otherwise be lawful. As to the second element of prima facie tort, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was ‘solely motivated by malice.’Other motives, such as ‘profit, self-interest, or business advantage will defeat a prima facie tort claim.’”

The debtor’s lawyer goes on to say that articles about Thiel’s activity “ambiguously suggest that Mr. Thiel both is and is not motivated by pecuniary gain.”

So they’re asking to be able to conduct discovery to see if they can clear that hurdle and make the prima facie case. Basically, they want to demand Thiel hand over some information to prove that he was fully motivated by “malice.” This is certainly interesting and will be worth watching, but I stand by my initial assessment. I don’t like the funding of lawsuits with the sole intent of killing off media properties, but I think that the proper thing to do is to pass a federal anti-SLAPP law to make it much more difficult to do what Thiel and Charles Harder have done.

Of course, if Gawker does move forward with this and it actually works (a big if), that would certainly be one way to limit the likelihood of others following the Thiel plan for shutting down media properties.

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Companies: gawker

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Comments on “Still A Bad Idea: Gawker Exploring Lawsuit Against Peter Thiel”

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I think what we need is enforcement of the Iqbal standards requiring a pleading to contain actual evidence supporting the claims being made, not just a bare recitation of the allegations, and the addition of a rule that at the pleading/response stage discovery is limited strictly to those things the opposing side has brought up (ie. defendant can only ask for discovery on the evidence plaintiff stated in the pleading, plaintiff can only ask for discovery on material defendant used in it’s response to the pleading). That’d put an end to a lot of lawsuits before they got expensive.

Yes, it’d discourage a lot of lawsuits where plaintiffs had a suspicion but no evidence. That’s the point. You aren’t supposed to be able to use the courts to go on fishing expeditions, you’re supposed to already have something to back up your belief about what the defendant’s supposed to have done.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The problem is not that Thiel was able to sue Gawker into the ground. There is not a single thing wrong with that. The problem is that that relief was denied to the rest of us via the astronomical legal fees required to take on Gawker’s legal beagles.

Gawker was judged by a jury, and found owing. No matter what Peter did to get the case to that point, a jury sat, and decided. Justice was done.

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