California Judge Appears To Side With The National Enquirer, Radar Over Richard Simmons In Defamation Suit

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Richard Simmons’ lawsuit about a series of false National Enquirer stories that claim he’s had a sex-change survives another day, but a California judge’s tentative ruling is in favor of the publication and makes bold statements about what it means to be transgender in the eyes of the law.

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Simmons sued AMI’s National Enquirer, Radar Online and American Media, Inc. in May, alleging that the “cruel and malicious” articles that suggested he was transitioning from a male to a female were false and infringed on his legal right to “not be portrayed as someone he is not.” AMI fired back with an anti-SLAPP motion  to strike the complaint, arguing it was protected speech and it’s not defamatory because statements that someone is transgender aren’t inherently shameful.

 

It was undisputed that Simmons is a public figure and writing the article about him qualifies as a protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute, so, in a tentative ruling issued ahead of the Wednesday morning hearing, L.A. Superior Court Judge Gregory Keosian focused on Simmons’ likelihood of prevailing on his claims.

 

“[A]lthough it is true that Simmons would not need to introduce any evidence of reputational damage to proceed in a defamation cause of action seeking only the emotional damages caused by the allegedly defamatory statement, Simmons must be able to show, as a threshold matter, that the allegedly defamatory statement on its face was the type of statement that would ‘naturally tend’ to injure one’s reputation,” writes Keosian.

 

The court acknowledges that the key issue of whether “falsely reporting that a person is transgender has a natural tendency to injure one’s reputation” is one of first impression in California.

 

“This court finds that because courts have long held that a misidentification of certain immutable characteristics do not naturally tend to injure one’s reputation, even if there is a sizeable portion of the population who hold prejudices against those characteristics, misidentification of a person as transgender is not actionable defamation absent special damages,” writes Keosian. (Read the tentative decision in full below.)

He explains that as societal perceptions have changed over the decades so too has whether false statements based on things like sexuality, race and illness are libelous.

 

Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: AP
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