from the slappity-slapp-slapp dept
Oh, Charles Harder. Fresh off losing the lawsuit he filed against us on behalf of Shiva Ayyadurai, lawyer Charles Harder is right back at it. The NY Post was the first to report that Harder has filed a lawsuit in New York state court against Gizmodo Media Group and two of its employees: Anna Merlan and Emma Carmichael. Gizmodo Media Group is basically what used to be Gawker. After Harder sued Gawker into bankruptcy and Univision bought many of Gawker’s assets, it put them into a new entity called GMG.
Obviously, we have some opinions concerning Harder and his increasingly long list of lawsuits against media properties — so feel free to take our analysis with however many grains of salt are necessary — but this appears to be a pretty clear SLAPP suit designed to create more chilling effects on free speech. There are many, many reasons why this lawsuit is almost certainly a total and complete dud. But, that doesn’t mean it won’t be costly and annoying for GMG (even with Univision’s help) and the two named individual defendants. The lawsuit is a response to an article on the site Jezebel entitled Inside Superstar Machine, Which Ex-Members Say Is a Cult Preying on New York’s Creative Women. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Greg Scherick and his company “International Scherick” — which is also called “Superstar Machine.”
You can read the article, written by Merlan, which details claims by multiple young women about how they were a part of an organization of sorts, run by Scherick, that was part motivational group and part… something else. Multiple women are quoted using the word “cult.” Here’s one clip, quoting a woman named “Rose”:
“It seemed scary. Like something that somebody who doesn’t have a degree or an ability to diagnose people should be doing to someone. And I really wanted her out, too. I freaked out and called her boyfriend and was like, ‘We’re in a cult. You need to get [her] out.’ And she called me and screamed at me and told me I was never allowed to call her boyfriend.”
The article is detailed, and has many sources. The actual lawsuit doesn’t seem to have much of a chance for a whole host of reasons. Many of the statements appear to be statements of opinion. Things like using the word “cult” have been held in other cases not to be defamatory. Not only that, but for the most part, the article was quoting others giving their opinions on International Scherick and “Superstar Machine.”
There are some other problems with the lawsuit as well. It claims that the article was published by GMG on September 10, 2016. This is important, because New York has a one year statute of limitations on defamation. But… what’s the date on the article?
Why yes, you’re right. It says May 10th. That’s past the statute of limitations. What Harder is trying to argue is that when Univision took over Jezebel following the purchase of Gawker’s assets, it “republished” the item. September 10th, 2016 was day that the deal apparently became official. Except… that’s not how this works at all. New York, like many states, has a “single publication rule” which says that the statute of limitations is from the original publication. There are some narrow exceptions where “republication” can restart the clock, but changing owners doesn’t appear to be one.
Some other oddities in the lawsuit: despite claiming that Scherick was a bigtime “life coach” who nicknamed himself “International” and runs an organization called “Superstar Machine,” Harder tries to argue that Scherick is not a public figure, and therefore a lower standard of defamation should apply.
Separately, as we’ve seen in other Harder lawsuits, the complaint tries to smear the reporter and the editor — repeatedly focusing on (for example) comments made by the editor Emma Carmichael in the Hulk Hogan case against Gawker (again, where Harder represented Hogan). Eric Turkewitz, a NY-based lawyer we’ve quoted before, calls the complaint “odd” and points out that the only way he sees that Harder can win the overall case is if Harder/Scherick can prove the quotes in the article (listed in paragraph 27 of the complaint) were fabricated. And that’s only if they can actually make the “republication” claim stick.
But, again, as we know all too well, sometimes the point of these sorts of defamation lawsuits appears to be more about creating a chilling effect for reporters and dragging them through the legal system. And, once again, this is why it’s absolutely crazy that New York still has a very weak anti-SLAPP law. It’s the media capital of the world, and it’s incredible that the state has failed to update its anti-SLAPP laws to prevent these sorts of lawsuits.